Ken Burn’s 2009 documentary film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, says its all: These are great places that have been preserved for enjoyment by present and future generations of travelers.
I’m fortunate enough to live within a half-hour drive of two units of the national park system: Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And I can visit Death Valley, Lassen, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Redwood, and Yosemite without leaving my adopted home state, California.
The scenic wonder of U.S. National Parks makes them great places to photograph. And each park has at least one natural feature that serves as its iconic image. Here are three such images I shot in Western U.S. parks.
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park lies north of Icy Strait, between the Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage and the Pacific Ocean. The jumping-off place for visiting the park is the tiny community of Gustavus, a short plane ride from the state capital, Juneau, to the east.
When Captain George Vancouver arrived at the mouth of Glacier Bay in 1794, a 20-mile wide, 4,000’ high “ice cube” blocked his path, preventing him from sailing north up the bay. So he wouldn’t have had this view of Margerie Glacier calving off chunks of itself into the water, as I did when I took this photo in June of 2008.
What will those who explore the bay by boat in the 23rd century see? Palm trees and sandy beaches, instead of bergy bits and calving glaciers? Alas, I won’t be there to find out.
Yellowstone National Park
While frozen water defines Glacier Bay National Park, it’s hot, steaming water spurting from underground caldrons that is the hallmark of America’s oldest National Park, Yellowstone, established in 1872.
While Old Faithful is the park’s best know “hot water fountain,” numerous geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots are found in many locations in Yellowstone, home to half of the earth’s geothermal features.
Yellowstone is actually a “supervolcano,” and while it’s not obvious to the eye, you’re in a vast caldera that was created in a massive explosion 640,000 years ago when you visit the park.
Another huge volcanic eruption could, in theory, happen while you are in Yellowstone, But odds are that next big blast won’t occur for another 90,000 years, so its unlikely that your planned trip will be cancelled by Mother Nature throwing a hissy-fit.
Crater Lake National Park
In 1980, Mount St. Helens, a volcanic peak in the Cascade Mountain Range, blew itself to bits in a horrific explosion. The ash plume extended hundreds of miles to the east, turning day-lit landscapes into night-like scenes.
Nearly 8,000 years earlier, Mount Mazama, another volcano in the Cascades, “decapitated” itself in a big bang. It was almost as though a baker wielding a sharp knife had sliced off the top layer of the mountain, and scooped out the insides, intending to fill it with tasty crème.
Today, Mazama’s remnant is a nearly 2,000’ deep rain barrel filled with intensely blue water. Wizard Island, like a miniature model of the old mountain, pokes up through the surface.
This natural wonder is part of Crater Lake National Park, located in Southern Oregon, northwest of Klamath Falls, east of Medford, and not far from the Oregon-California state line.
The best place to stay in the park is Crater Lake Lodge, perched on the rim’s southern edge. I bunked there for the first time in 1973.
But just before its scheduled summer opening in 1989, the lodge was deemed unsafe for visitors and it was closed. Reconstruction began in 1991 and the lodge re-opened in 1995.
Some bits and pieces of the 1915 lodge were salvaged and incorporated into the new building. During my 2008 stay, I found that the new lodge retains the much of the character and charm of the the original structure.
Global warming may slowing melt away Glacier Bay’s ice. But will it turn Crater Lake into a dried-up well? Probably not anytime soon.
(Click on an image to enlarge to full-size. Visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more of this week’s Travel Photo Thursday shots. Purchasing Ken Burn’s film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, through links on this page helps Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories.)