Imagine a time long before interstate highways and automobiles. You’ve been riding your horse for days across a high desert landscape of flat-topped mesas and rabbitbrush. It’s hot, dry, and dusty, but the terrain thus far has been easy to navigate, except for a few prairie dog holes your horse has tripped in. Suddenly, you spot a black line on the horizon. At first you think it’s a mirage, but as you ride near, you realize it’s something very real—a black, jumbled mass of jagged volcanic rock stretching as far as the eye can see. Your horse isn’t getting across that.
Such was the experience of early Spanish explorers traveling through northwestern New Mexico. They named this rugged, volcanic region El Malpais (el mal-pie-ees), Spanish for “the bad country,” and detoured around the vast lava flows.
Today, these lava flows are part of El Malpais National Monument. The monument is a primeval volcanic landscape sculpted by a series of eruptions over the past 60,000 years and as recently as 1,200 years ago. These eruptions created a fantastic geologic wonderland of cinder cone volcanoes, lava tube caves, and some of the longest and youngest basaltic lava flows on the continent.
You can explore these geologic features yourself on trails and scenic drives throughout El Malpais. Along the east side of the park, the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook offers spectacular views down at the dark, undulating lava flows. Farther down the road, traverse the lava at the one-mile Lava Falls Trail for an up-close look at this otherworldly moonscape
On the opposite side of the park, hike through ponderosa, piñon, and juniper forests up to the top of a 60,000-year-old cinder cone volcano at El Calderon. If you’re feeling especially adventurous and have a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle, drive the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway out to Big Tubes and hike a jagged, cairn-marked trail out to several lava tube caves. You can explore these caves with proper caving equipment and a caving permit, which you can pick up at the El Malpais Visitor Center. Be sure to call ahead if you plan to cave, as caves may be closed for resource protection.
Assateague Island is a 37-mile long barrier island located off the eastern coast of the Delmarva Peninsula facing the Atlantic Ocean. The northern two-thirds of the island is in Maryland while the southern third is in Virginia
Have you ever thought about a late winter getaway to the beach? We are serious! Get ready for salt air, seascapes and solitude. Assateague Island National Seashore is a place recreated each day by ocean wind and waves. Life here has adapted to an existence on the move and wintertime is the best time to watch the island change. Explore uncrowded sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, and coastal bays. Rest, relax, recreate, and enjoy some time on the edge of the continent.
Assateague Island is one of the largest undeveloped mid-Atlantic barrier islands containing intact coastal habitats where dynamic natural processes may occur with little or no human interference. The island’s habitats support numerous aquatic and terrestrial species, many of which are rare, uniquely adapted to life at the edge of the sea, and dependent upon natural ecosystem processes. The unique environmental conditions found on barrier islands are reflected in the range of habitats stretching from ocean to bay, including beaches, dunes, grass and shrublands, freshwater wetlands, maritime forests, and salt marshes. The winter months are a great time to explore these habitats and their wildlife without the company of our famous mosquitoes!
The winter months are also some of the best times to observe birds on Assateague Island. Many species of ducks and geese overwinter in the national seashore waters and early arriving migratory species of shorebirds and songbirds use the island as a stopover on their journeys north.
Make sure to look for our most famous wildlife species. The wild horses of Assateague Island are descendants of domesticated animals brought to the island more than 300 hundreds years ago. Horses tough enough to survive the scorching heat, abundant insects, and stormy weather found on this windswept barrier island have formed a unique wild horse society. Check out these wildlife viewing and horse safety tips before you visit to make the most of your time at the park. Enjoy the horses from a distance and help ensure these living cultural resources will continue to thrive on Assateague Island.
When visiting Assateague Island in the winter, remember that is often colder and much windier than on the nearby mainland. Dress in layers and bring sturdy shoes or hiking boots to explore the trails and beach. Rain gear, hats, gloves, and sunglasses will keep you prepared for changing weather conditions.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, two miles (3 km) west of Amesbury. It consists of an outer ring of vertical sarsen standing stones, each around 13 feet (4.0 m) high, seven feet (2.1 m) wide, and weighing around 25 tons, topped by connecting horizontal lintel stones. Inside is a ring of smaller bluestones. Inside these are free-standing trilithons, two bulkier vertical Sarsens joined by one lintel. The whole monument, now ruinous, is orientated towards the sunrise on the summer solstice. The stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred tumuli (burial mounds).
Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the first bluestones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, although they may have been at the site as early as 3000 BC.
Stonehenge is regarded as a British cultural icon. It has been a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1882, when legislation to protect historic monuments was first successfully introduced in Britain.
Stonehenge could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. Deposits containing human bone date from as early as 3000 BC, when the ditch and bank were first dug, and continued for at least another 500 years.
When Stonehenge was first opened to the public it was possible to walk among and even climb on the stones, but the stones were roped off in 1977 as a result of serious erosion] Visitors are no longer permitted to touch the stones but are able to walk around the monument from a short distance away. The site's manager English Heritage does, however, permit access during the summer and winter solstice, and the spring and autumn equinox. Additionally, visitors can make special bookings to access the stones throughout the year.
Each spring in Appalachia, the rivers run high and fast! But the Gauley River in southern West Virginia won’t reach its high season until fall. In September, when excess water is released through Summersville Dam, thousands of whitewater enthusiasts from all over the world flock to the Gauley to experience what is considered by many to be one of the most thrilling whitewater opportunities in the world.
The Gauley River National Recreation Area established in 1988, protects 25 miles of the Gauley River and six miles of the Meadow River. Dropping more than 668 feet through rugged, remote terrain, this part of the river features more than 100 rapids with steep gradients, technical runs, an incredible volume of water, and huge waves. Like nearby New River Gorge National River and Bluestone National Scenic River, the Gauley’s deep gorge supports abundant and varied life. You’ll find forests of oak, beech, yellow poplar, hemlock, and dogwood. Rare and threatened species such as the Allegheny woodrat, cerulean warbler, eastern hellbender, and finescale saddled darter make their home on the Gauley River. Rare plants include Virginia spiraea, Appalachian blue violet, and balsam squaw-weed.
If you are interested in “doing the Gauley,” a variety of commercial rafting companies can provide you with the experience during Gauley season, which begins the first weekend after Labor Day and continues Fridays through Mondays for six weekends. The Upper Gauley offers tremendous class III to V+ drops in steep, turbulent chutes such as Pillow Rock, Iron Ring, and Sweet's Falls, and rocky routes that demand constant maneuvering, such as Lost Paddle and Shipwreck. The Lower Gauley is a 12-mile stretch, rated class III to V, that feels like a watery roller coaster. An insider tip…the river has much less visitation on Fridays and Mondays, providing a more wilderness experience. If you are interested in running the Gauley during the summer, commercial trips may be available depending on water levels.
Although whitewater provides the main draw for visitors to the Gauley River, rock climbing is a fast-growing sport in the area. There is also good trout and muskellunge fishing at the Gauley Tailwaters below Summersville Dam and near the confluence with the New River; you can fish for walleyes, muskies, and smallmouth bass.
If you’re looking for a new adventure this year, take a plunge into the Gauley. With a combination of vigorous rapids, remote, rugged geography, history, and scenic beauty, it just might be the wildest ride you’ll ever take!
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located along the northwest coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan in Leelanau and Benzie counties near Empire, Michigan. The park covers a 35-mile-long stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou island
Miles of sand beach, bluffs that tower 450’ above Lake Michigan, lush forests, clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna make up the natural world of Sleeping Bear Dunes. High dunes afford spectacular views across the lake. An island lighthouse, US Life-Saving Service stations, coastal villages, and picturesque farmsteads reflect the park’s rich maritime, agricultural, and recreational history.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is as old as continental ice sheets and as young as the 1970 Establishment Act that set aside the Lakeshore for preservation of the natural resources and for public use. The most prominent features, and those for which the park is named, are the perched dunes above Lake Michigan. These immense sand dunes are “perched” atop the already towering headlands that are glacial moraines. The dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan. With 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and numerous inland lakes and streams, the park is wonderfully water oriented.
Although the Lakeshore is long and narrow, it still has the depth for excellent representations of several northern hardwood and conifer forest types, abandoned farm site meadows, wetlands, lakes, streams, and bogs and splendid examples of glacially caused landforms. Whether you are on the sandy bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, in a canoe on one of the many inland lakes, hiking the myriad of trails through the forest, or visiting the Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan you will have a wonderful opportunity for bird watching, wildlife viewing, and for just enjoying nature at its best.
Mount Rainier National Park, a 369-sq.-mile Washington state reserve southeast of Seattle, surrounds glacier-capped, 14,410-ft. Mount Rainier. Atop 6,400-ft.-high Sunrise, the highest point in the park reachable by car, visitors can admire Rainier and other nearby volcanoes, including Mount Adams. The park’s 5,400-ft.-high Paradise overlook offers mountain views, summertime wildflower meadows and hiking trailheads.
Mount Rainier is circled by the Wonderland Trail and is covered by glaciers and snowfields totaling about 35 square miles (91 km2). Carbon Glacier is the largest glacier by volume in the contiguous United States, while Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier by area. Mount Rainier is a popular peak for mountaineering with some 10,000 attempts per year with approximately 50% making it to the summit.
The purpose of Mount Rainier National Park is to protect and preserve unimpaired the majestic icon of Mount Rainier, a glaciated volcano, along with its natural and cultural resources, values, and dynamic processes. The park provides opportunities for people to experience, understand, and care for the park environment, and also provides for wilderness experiences and sustains wilderness values.
You can see Mt. Rainier standing at 14,411' from Downtown Seattle and as far away as Victoria B.C. and Oregon. Fun fact, it's the largest glaciated mountain in the lower 48 with 26 named glaciers.
It was the Deadliest Ground of the American Civil War. Nearly 13,000 men died on these grounds, a site that became infamous even before the Civil War ended. Their burial grounds became Andersonville National Cemetery, where veterans continue to be buried today. This place, where tens of thousands suffered captivity so others could be free, is also home to the National Prisoner of War Museum and serves as a memorial to all American prisoners of war.
Andersonville National Historic Site began as a stockade built about 18 months before the end of the U.S. Civil War to hold Union Army prisoners captured by Confederate soldiers. Located deep behind Confederate lines, the 26.5-acre Camp Sumter (named for the south Georgia county it occupied) was designed for a maximum of 10,000 prisoners. At its most crowded, it held more than 32,000 men, many of them wounded and starving, in horrific conditions with rampant disease, contaminated water, and only minimal shelter from the blazing sun and the chilling winter rain. In the prison's 14 months of existence, some 45,000 Union prisoners arrived here; of those, 12,920 died and were buried in a cemetery created just outside the prison walls.
The cemetery site serving Camp Sumter was established as Andersonville National Cemetery on July 26, 1865. By 1868, the cemetery held the remains of more than 13,800 Union soldiers whose bodies had been retrieved after their deaths in hospitals, battles, or prison camps throughout the region. Andersonville National Cemetery has been used continuously since its founding and currently averages over 150 burials a year. The cemetery and associated prison site became a unit of the National Park System in 1970.
Today, Andersonville National Historic Site comprises three distinct components: the former site of Camp Sumter military prison, the Andersonville National Cemetery, and the National Prisoner of War Museum, which opened in 1998 to honor all U.S. prisoners of war in all wars.
The site of Camp Sumter (Andersonville Prison), the most famous of the prison camps of the Civil War, is preserved as part of the the National Historic Site. The historic prison site is 26.5 acres outlined with double rows of white posts. Two sections of the stockade wall have been reconstructed, the north gate and the northeast corner.
Located south of the National POW Museum, a tour road encircles the site, providing easy access to the the most important locations in the prison site. Roadside pull-offs and exhibits are located at the Wisconsin Monument, the North Gate, Providence Spring, the Star Fort, and the reconstructed northeast corner of the stockade.
It's more than a mountain, Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road. Travelers along it see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America's tallest peak, 20,310' Denali. Wild animals large and small roam un-fenced lands, living as they have for ages. Solitude, tranquility and wilderness await
In many ways, Denali is simpler than most national parks. If you plan to understand the park, or plan a visit, it helps to know some basic details:
Denali has only one road, and only one road entrance.
Called the Denali Park Road (or simply "the park road"), it is 92 miles long and runs from east to west. It is a scenic road made mostly of dirt and gravel. It starts in a low, forested area, but rises and falls through mountain passes (and along some precipitous mountain sides!) on its journey west.
The park entrance, where the Denali Park Road meets Alaska Highway 3, is at the eastern end of the park. Like many rural roads and landmarks in Alaska, the Denali entrance is referred to by its mile along the highway. In this case, the park entrance is at Mile 237 on Highway 3 (Mile 0 is in Anchorage, where Highway 3 originates).
In the summer (May 20—the middle of September), privately-owned vehicles may drive the first 15 miles of the park road, to a place called Savage River. Travel beyond Savage River is mainly limited to a variety of narrated and non-narrated buses, and passengers must board their bus near the park entrance (or in some cases, at their hotel outside of the park). Bus trips are a great way to see the landscape and wildlife of the park.
Denali is home to wild lands and many wild animals. Congress created this park in 1917; at the time, the purpose was to protect Dall sheep from over-hunting. The park's size and purpose grew over time. The park is now around 6 million acres, and much of the park must remain devoid of human development. This means that the only trails in the park are near the park road, and mainly near the park entrance. However, Denali offers visitors a rare opportunity to hike off trail in a wild landscape.
The National Park Service does not run a lodge or hotel
There are six campgrounds in Denali, but no NPS-run lodging.
Jasper National Park is the largest national park within Alberta's Rocky Mountains spanning 11,000 km2 (4,200 sq mi). Its location is north of Banff National Park and west of Edmonton. The park contains the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, springs, lakes, waterfalls and mountains.
Jasper was named after Jasper Hawes, who operated a trading post in the region for the North West Company. The park was established on September 14, 1907, as Jasper Forest Park, and was granted national park status in 1930,
Mammalian species found in this park are the elk, caribou, moose, red fox, mule deer, white-tailed deer, porcupine, lynx, beaver, marten, river otter, mink, pika, grizzly bear, coyote, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, black bear, timber wolf, hoary marmot, cougar, and wolverine. The most common birds that fly around this park include bald eagles, golden eagles, great horned owls, ravens, grey jays, clark's nutcrackers, spruce grouses, white-tailed ptarmigans, Bohemian waxwings, and evening grosbeaks.
The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, together with the other national and provincial parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, for the mountain landscapes containing mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, and limestone caves as well as fossils found here. Some of the park's scenic attractions include Mount Edith Cavell, Pyramid Lake with Pyramid Mountain, Maligne Lake, Medicine Lake, and the Tonquin Valley.
Other attractions are the Marmot Basin ski area; the Snocoach tours of the Athabasca Glacier, an outlet glacier of the Columbia Icefield; Athabasca Falls; the Jasper Skytram, and numerous other outdoor related recreational activities (such as hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, rafting, kayaking and camping). The Miette Hot Springs are located close to the northeast entrance.
The Icefields Parkway is a highway 230 km (140 mi) in length from Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National Park, to Jasper, Alberta. The highway parallels the continental divide, providing motor and cycle access to the mountains. The Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls are both accessible by the road.