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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About National Parks

Survivor's Tree Oklahoma City National Memorial
Jerry Laizure / AP

Not Your Typical Park
Forget lush forests, purple mountains and majestic wildlife. Some of the country's most popular national parks are important historic landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island. Even the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing falls under the care of the national-park system, which looks after the memorial and what is known as the Survivor Tree, a century-old Dutch elm that endured the blast despite having its trunk charred by flames and most of its

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Joseph Sohm / Visions of America / Corbis

The Big One
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the largest park in the country. At six times the size of Yellowstone, it is the meeting point of four major mountain ranges and includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. The preserve contains three climate zones, which means that it has everything from giant glaciers to wetlands to one of the largest active volcanoes in North America — in the Wrangell Mountain range, pictured here.

White Sands National Monument
Ed Darack / Science Faction / Corbis

Explosions in the Desert
White Sands National Monument spans more than 275 sq. mi. of New Mexico desert and contains the largest gypsum dune fields in the world. But because the park lies adjacent to the country's largest military installation — a 3,200-sq.-mi. missile range — the crystalline waves are often closed to the public while the Defense Department conducts top-secret (and presumabl

Dry Tortugas National Park
Tony Arruza / CORBIS

Boondocks, U.S.A.
Located 70 miles from Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a collection of seven tiny islands that can be reached only by boat or plane, making it the country's most remote national park. Besides a stunning amount of marine life (it's home to the third largest barrier-reef system, outside of only Australia and Belize), the park boasts an impressive military and nautical history. The 163-year-old stronghold of Fort Jefferson was once used to house prisoners during the Civil War, and a 17th century Spanish galleon was uncovered by dive

Redwood National Park
Richard Schultz / Corbis

Some Big Trees
They're world famous. The redwoods at the Redwood National and State Parks — in Oregon and on the north coast of California — are the tallest trees on the planet. Many of them stand more than 30 stories high. Up until 2006, the 370-ft. Stratosphere Giant held the title for tallest tree on Earth, but three others — the Hyperion (378.1 ft.), Helios (376.3 ft.) and Icarus (371.2 ft.) — superseded it when they were discovered in Eureka, Calif.

Old Faithful Geyser
Pete Saloutos / CORBIS

Not So Faithful?
If you're looking for a reason to trek to Yellowstone National Park, consider this: the geyser dubbed Old Faithful might not be reliable for long. The lapse between steam blasts has lengthened by about 14 minutes in recent years, most likely because of an earthquake in 1983 that altered subterranean water levels. At least four other geysers in the park have been permanently damaged by vandals who threw litter into the geysers' mouths.

MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters / Corbis

Growing More Than Sequoias
National parks have been coping with a spate of unwelcome visitors recently — marijuana growers, who raise thousands of plants on federal lands. Usually tied to Mexican drug cartels, the pot plantations inflict considerable environmental damage and pose serious safety risks: they're frequently guarded by traffickers with automatic weapons and night-vision goggles (park rangers often arm themselves with M-16s as they scout for drug fields). In August, authorities at California's Sequoia National Park found a $36 million marijuana-cultivation operation just half a mile from a popular tourist site.

Joseph Sohm / Visions of America / Corbis

Odd State Out
Poor Delaware. It's the only state in the country not to have a national park, monument or any other site in the federal system. (Even American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico have one. The Virgin Islands has five.) Lawmakers from the tiny state (itself smaller than 15 national parks) have spent years trying to land a National Historic Site to showcase its colonial history, so far fruitlessly. But with Delawarean Joe Biden as Vice President, Senator Tom Carper has s

Crater Lake National Park
Roger Ressmeyer / CORBIS

Deep Blue
Southern Oregon is home to the largest lake in the U.S., in Crater Lake National Park. Lying in a volcanic basin, Crater Lake was created when the 12,000-ft.-high Mount Mazama collapsed 7,700 years ago following a large eruption. It is 1,943 ft. deep — deep enough to hide 1½ Empire State Buildings. About 530 in. of winter snow per year provide the lake with plenty of wate

Aniakchak National Monument
Fred Hirschmann / Science Faction / Corbis

Be Alone with Nature. Really Alone
The National Park Service boasted about 275 million visitors last year; virtually none of them went to Aniakchak. The national monument and preserve in rural Alaska recorded just 10 visitors in 2008, mainly on account of the park's remote location in the Aleutian Islands, 450 miles southwest of Anchorage, and its abysmal weather. (The most visited park site, by contrast — the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia — drew more than 16 million people.) Aniakchak is accessible only by boat and seaplane, which often can't land because of fog and wind (the gusts can lead to hypothermia even in summer, the Park Service warns). If you make it, don't expect much in the way of luxury or even a gift shop: the government has no public facilities on the 600,000-acre site.


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