The 412 units of the National Park Service are as varied as the United States itself and an incredible legacy for Americans. The Los Angeles Times Travel section took a yearlong look at some of those units, why they matter and how the park service is working to tell this country’s story.
Like many great love affairs, mine began in childhood. The details are sketchy, drawn from memory and from photographs in a family album, old Super 8s. Our two-toned station wagon is loaded up in the driveway of the Altadena home, room for five, our gear and a black Labrador named Sheba.
On a late October afternoon, as icy shards of rain pelleted the high desert, Angela Sutton pries open the metal door that seals off the old jail that once belonged to the Tule Lake war relocation camp.
The door swings open and we step into the pitch darkness, into air redolent of musty concrete.
Tule Lake, in a rural community in Northern California just a few minutes shy of the Oregon line, was the biggest and most notorious of the Japanese American internment camps established by the U.S. government during World War II, when almost 120,000 people (mainly U.S. citizens) were incarcerated for no other reason than their ancestry.
Relive women’s history in Seneca Falls’ national park and come away with new heroes
By Catherine Watson
Wen Melinda Grube was in grade school, a male teacher told her that “women are not in the historical record, because they never did anything important.”
She vowed then that she “would never allow anybody to say that to me again.” Grube, now armed with a PhD in women’s history, is a historical interpreter at Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, working to make sure girls now hear a different message.
First, at the Alamo rental car counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport just over the line from Washington, D.C., discover that your driver’s license is missing. Search and swear for two hours. Then find it in your left shoe.
Second, when the Holiday Inn clerk asks what brings you to town, tell him you’re kicking off a big fall foliage road trip: all 105 miles of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, then all 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina.
Unplugging at Point Reyes National Seashore, home to a famous lighthouse, pristine beaches and off-the-grid peace
By Rosemary McClure
A handwritten sign in the Bear Valley Visitor Center didn't offer much hope for a colorful sunset: "99% chance of fog tonight," it advised, followed by the postscript: “This is likely an underestimation.”
But I'd come nearly 500 miles to see the sun's bright, hot rays reflected on the facade of the Point Reyes Lighthouse at end of day. I shrugged off the forecast and drove 21 miles to the edge of the continent to take a look.
On our last family road trip to the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I drove a big loop with our daughter, then 6. We hit Seattle and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. On the way south toward Portland, we stopped at Walla Walla in southeastern Washington. Nice people, pleasant wineries.
At no point did I think, "Wait! We're only two hours from the cradle of the atomic bomb!"
But now that I've spent a few days nosing around the Hanford Site of the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park — and now that my daughter is nearly 12 — I think differently.
Olympic and Everglades national parks differ in most ways except one: Their survival affects ours
By Rosemary McClure
To go where the wild things are, hit our national parks. Olympic in Washington and the Everglades in Florida tell contrasting tales of a treasure-trove of creatures but speak as one voice about why their survival matters.
Descending into the darkness, we shed light on ourselves
By David Kelly
Since the dawn of time, humans have been bound to the cave. It's been our home, our tomb, our place of revelation.
The prophet Muhammad met the angel Gabriel in a cave; Zeus nursed in a cave; and Chaac, the Maya rain god, dispatched clouds from his subterranean lair.
The National Park Service has long recognized this primordial connection and oversees more than 4,700 caves, many open for exploration. Four of the seven longest caves on Earth — Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, Jewel Cave and Wind Cave in South Dakota, and Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico — are managed by the park service. Each of the caves stretches more than 135 miles; Mammoth exceeds 400 miles.
The busiest unit in our national park system isn't a park at all. In fact, plenty of visitors never notice that they're in it — not when they're half-lost in the redwoods of Marin County's Muir Woods, not when they're deep into a conversation about robots at San Francisco's Ft. Mason, not when they're roaming the vast beach flats of Ft. Funston, near the San Mateo County line.
So be advised: The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is an 80,000-acre non-contiguous realm that flanks the Golden Gate Bridge and includes Alcatraz Island and chunks of three counties. To cover all its territory would take months. But if you treat the GGNRA as a travel decathlon — as I did in a pair of recent visits — you can complete 10 feats of tourism.