Our favorite travel stories from national parks of the west

Yellowstone was the first  (1872), Wrangell-St. Elias is the biggest (13.2 million acres) and Death Valley is the hottest (up to 134 degrees). We’re talking about national parks, of course. Here are tips, tales and pictures from western parks we’ve checked out recently.
With giant cactuses and sleek jaguars, Arizona's Sonoran Desert has an edgy beauty tinged with danger

Botanical wonders abound in the wild Sonoran Desert of Organ Pipe National Monument and Saguaro National Park. Just mind the heat.

Unplugging at Point Reyes National Seashore, home to a famous lighthouse, pristine beaches and off-the-grid peace

Unplug at Point Reyes National Seashore, home to a famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, rocky headlands and off-the-grid peace.

Discover our desert national parks and rediscover yourself. You can start with Joshua Tree

More and more people are craving that Joshua Tree state of mind. Hikers, climbers and seekers of all sorts are converging on this park like never before.

Seeing firsthand why Olympic National Park is one of the nation's great wilderness areas

Olympic National Park, part of a World Heritage site, shelters much wildlife, including bald eagles, brown bears and Roosevelt elk.

10 adventures to pursue in San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area

An itinerary through San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area: Give this sprawling urban-rural area a week.

A school field trip to the room where the atomic bomb was made

A visit to the Hanford Site of the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park gets one visitor thinking about the questions it raises.

As the National Park Service turns 100, a look back, and forward

Since 1916, the National Park Service has sought to protect both the wonders and the whys of America, from Yosemite to Manassas, Sand Creek to Selma. For that, one Californian is forever grateful.

National parks celebrate 100 years: Readers share their memories

Times readers tell of memories in national parks, including Sequoia, Zion, Yellowstone and Yosemite National parks, Mt. Rushmore and Bryce Canyon.

Walk in the footsteps of Billy the Kid and Apollo astronauts at this national monument in New Mexico

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, near Las Cruces, N.M., has hiking and biking trails, grasslands, volcanic craters.

Yellowstone's steaming, splashing, roaring spectacle is best seen up close

Head to Yellowstone National Park to see one of the most thrilling settings in North America, where beasts and geysers abound.

At Crater Lake, Ore., sky and water become one, bathed in blue

Crater Lake National Park, Ore., is a rugged place, buffeted by the elements. But, oh, what a view of that water.

The Grand Canyon, just as the Kolb brothers pictured it

For more than 65 years, one family took photos of visitors riding mules down the Grand Canyon, becoming part of local history.

In Death Valley, a Jeep, back roads and a whole new perspective

In Death Valley National Park, visiting well-known Badwater and Dante's View, but also the park's nooks and crannies.

California's redwoods: In the land of the giants

California's majestic old-growth coastal redwoods — the tallest trees on Earth — will leave one humbled, awed and waxing poetic.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is unmatched in the park system

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a thrilling landscape with gorgeous sunsets. But finding lodging can be an issue.

Hitting a peak at Pinnacles National Park with spires, condor sightings

The rocky wonder of Pinnacles National Park is made doubly exciting with a condor aerial show.

In Katmai National Park, Alaska, up close with bears pursuing salmon

A visit to Katmai National Park in Alaska to see the coastal brown bear pursue salmon.

At Mesa Verde National Park, step back into ancient Pueblo times

Mesa Verde National Park is full of ruins, trails and austere scenery, including the Long House and Step House on Wetherill Mesa, as well as Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, which tells how the Ancestral Puebloans (also known as Anasazi) lived and farmed on mesa tops for hundreds of years before moving to the cliff dwellings below, then moving on to New Mexico and Arizona in about 1300.

Channel Islands National Park: Kayak thrills, foxy neighbors

The four main islands of Channel Islands National Park are as close as 13 miles off Ventura County's coast, yet neither my husband, Michael, nor I had been

Southern California Close-Ups: Joshua Tree National Park and Desert Hot Springs

Joshua Tree and environs offer camping, hiking, unusual sites (the famed Integratron), hotels, restaurants, watering holes and spas, where you can take a well-deserved soak.

Utah: Grand twists, turns for hikers in Arches National Park

To make the most of the sights and trails at Utah's Arches National Park, head there in the spring, fall and winter months.

Mt. Rainier National Park readies for a wildflower spectacle

A trip to Mt. Rainier National Park reveals the colorful wonders that make it one of the top wildflower sites in the world.

Serenity, scenery go hand in hand at Utah's Capitol Reef National Park

There is just one paved road in Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. It is an eight-mile scenic drive on which the only traffic jams are caused by an

A sunrise bike ride down Hawaii's Haleakala volcano

After watching dawn break from the lip of the volcano, a brave writer joins other adventurers for the 27-mile whoosh down to the sea, hairpin turns, singing spokes and all.

Zip off the beaten path in Death Valley National Park on a motorcycle

The natural wonders of Death Valley's hidden elements shine through when seen from a rugged, dual-sport motorcycle.

A peaceful interlude at the Mojave National Preserve

Situated between Interstates 15 and 40, the preserve boasts solitude, Joshua tree forests, snow-dusted peaks and desert horizons, and it may be our best-kept secret.

Camping in California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks

After a five-hour haul up to Sequoia National Park with a tent and cooler stuffed for a weekend camping sojourn in big-tree country, you wouldn't dream of

Alcatraz: Getting rattled on 'the Rock'

Alcatraz Island, Calif. -- EACH day at sundown, when the last tour boat departs this desolate, wind-swept outpost, one lonesome soul is left behind. He's the