by D.J. Wilson – Do you believe the best things in life are free? It’s easy to agree with this statement, especially during National Parks Week, when free entrance is offered to any of these parks nationwide. National parks were originally created by the federal government to protect and preserve land which had not yet been granted statehood. Yellowstone was the first park safeguarded from settlement and railroad development. Today, the national park system comprises 401 areas, including national monuments and sites. While some parks are free, a good number require entrance fees. Fortunately, we can all enjoy cost-free and nearly week-long access to the parks from April 22nd to April 26th. Here are three beautiful parks which offer incredible landscapes, history and endless opportunities for exploration:
Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado – This is a great park for those who love science and adventure. Breath taking mountains, dramatic canyons, and scenic desert and river views make this park equally desirable for those who enjoy a diversity of activities. Camping, hiking and river rafting are some of the fun things to do. Of course, the greatest attractions are the dinosaur fossils, where visitors can see 1,500 dinosaur fossils encased in the rock at the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall. Explore lands where the Fremont Indians once inhabited the canyons over 800 years ago. Be sure to observe the petroglyphs and learn about life in the past, visually demonstrated through Indian rock art. POINT OF INTEREST: Look for lizards which are still commonly seen at Dinosaur National Monument and enjoy knowing these creatures have lived on the earth for more than 300 million years.
Joshua Tree National Park, California – If desert landscape, wildflowers and beautiful night skies sound enticing, don’t miss a visit here. The unique shaping of the land, by wind, rain and climate, give the desert park distinctive characteristics. Unlike many other desert environments, here you’ll discover a huge variety of wildlife and plants. Spring growth, encouraged by fall and winter rain, results in the abundance of wildflowers which covers the brown desert floor. Adding interest to the scene are the desert tortoises which spend a great deal of time underground, but step out of their burrows come spring. It’s true that this park lies on hundreds of faults, such as the famous San Andreas Fault. Therefore, this park is a great place to see rocks and view the effects of earthquakes up close and personal. Enjoy a moderate hike to the Lost Horse Mine, which once produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver from 1894 to 1931. Some spots are unstable; therefore visitors are encouraged to seek information at the ranger station before exploring. POINT OF INTEREST: Check out the twisted trees which oddly grow in spikes and give the park its name. It is believed that Mormon immigrants named the trees after the biblical figure, Joshua.
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, Indiana – What fun it is to see the site of the farm where Abraham Lincoln spent 14 important years of his life growing up, from ages 7 to 21. Lincoln and his family moved to Indiana in 1816, before later heading to Illinois. The years spent in Indiana were formative for Lincoln, where this future 16th U.S. President acquired many of the fine principles by which he lived. See the Memorial Visitor Center featuring five sculptured panels marking important periods of time in Lincoln’s life. The National Park Service is happy to share the story of Lincoln in a 15-minute park orientation film entitled “Forging Greatness: Lincoln in Indiana.” Then, enjoy museum exhibits and artifacts. Be sure to visit the Lincoln Living Historical Farm, where rangers dress in period clothes and share typical activities of daily life in the 1820’s. Enjoy visiting the working pioneer homestead and log cabin, outbuildings, livestock areas, gardens and more. POINT OF INTEREST: Check out the bronze casting which outlines the foundation of what is believed to be Lincoln’s third cabin. Walk the historic Trail of Twelve Stones which commemorates the major events in Lincoln’s life and career. The trail goes from the cabin site to the Pioneer Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is buried.
Be sure to check out the full list of National parks participating in the free entrance days at http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm. People who wish to visit multiple national parks will likely consider purchasing America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. For $80, the annual pass allows entrance to all national parks with additional admission to federally owned wildlife refuges, forests and lands. Senior, access and volunteer passes are available and free annual passes are offered for military members and their dependents. Please check with the individual parks for hours of operation and to review event schedules.
Readers are encouraged to share experiences visiting America’s beloved National Parks.