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- Life in
A learner's guide to
discovering the United States
story of America's National Parks
- The Old Faithful geyser
Today, there are sixty-three National
Parks in the USA... This large number may come as a surprise to some
people, but it is easily expalined; and the first explanation is that
the USA was the very first nation in the world to designate areas of
land as "National Parks". When Congress established Yellowstone as
America's first national Park, on March 1st 1872, it was doing
something that no other nation had ever done, and was establishing a
and far-sighted policy for protecting some of the most outstanding,
beautiful, and significant natural areas in North America.
Those nineteenth century
Congressmen could hardly have imagined the extent and the importance of
the process they were setting in motion, as they drafted their
legislation in Washington. With the means of transport of the age,
they, and most of the American population, were several days' train
ride from Yellowstone, a park on the borders of Wyoming, Montana and
Idaho. The legislators surely did not even dream that 150 years later,
for instance, the number of visitors to National Parks Service areas
would be over three hundred and ten million.
They knew, all the same that
they were doing something necessary, and something of historic value.
rock formations in Bryce Canyon
The original Act of Congress
clearly defined the purpose of the National Parks, which was to:
"Conserve the scenery and the
natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein, and to provide
for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will
leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
No other country had any
similar policy; yet it should be remembered that the United States was
in a singularly different position at the time, from any other
developed country. While virtually all land in Europe belonged to
private landowners, and only a small proportion was in state hands,
things were very different in the USA, particulartly in the West where
there were millions of acres land, uninhabited and often uninhabitable.
The act of 1872 established a
new public land policy, namely that public lands were to be:
and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy or sale under the laws of the
United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure
ground, for the benefit and enjoyment of people."
Yet Recreation and enjoyment
not the only reasons for which Congress decided to set aside
National Parks; as early as 1800, poets and novelists had been writing
about the magnificence of natural sites. In the middle of the
nineteenth century, the American philosopher and writer Henry David
Thoreau was already fleeing city life and developing his own
back-to-nature movement, and his book,
Walden, or Life
in the Woods (1854), had a major impact on Americans'
awareness of their natural heritage. Thoreau's idealism certainly
played a part in the legislators' decision to preserve large areas of
America's natural heritage for posterity.
So it was that Congress
declared that some of the most spectacular and beautiful regions of the
American West should be preserved for posterity. And one by one, the
Grand Canyon, spectacular parts of the Rocky Mountains, and
California's Yosemite mountains found themselves among a number of
national parks which has continued to grow for over a century.
While the most spectacular of
America's National Parks are to be found in the West, there are others
in the eastern half of the USA, in Alaska and Hawaii.
Thanks to the foresight of
earlier generations, Americans, and an increasing number of visitors
from other countries, can today enjoy some of the finest National
Parks in the world.
Recreation and accommodation in National Parks
are the subject of
rules and regulations in National Parks and other areas.
These areas being set aside for recreational use,
such use is
encouraged, and all parks offer many miles, indeed sometimes hundreds
of miles of waymarked hiking trails. The parks are patroled by Park
Rangers who try to help visitors stick to the rules. Straying off
marked ways in the wilder of parks may be dangerous, as they are home
to bears and other potentially dangerous wild animals.
is provided in many parks in the form of lodges, which are state or
federal run hotels built to blend in with the environment, when this is
possible. Alternatively, there are lots of campgrounds, some of them
well equipped and staffed, other unattended, places where campers can
park their RV of set up their tent for the night..
Depending on the park, visitors may be
required to buy an entrance pass. There is an entrance fee for most
National Parks, but, some such as the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park are free (though there are parking charges since 2023).
Ten of the greatest National Parks in the US West
A selection of some of the finest parks in the American West
Utah - Dramatic rock formations in the Utah desert
- Badlands South
Dakota - Spectacular dry area, rugged
treeless hills and dry valleys
- Bryce Canyon-
Utah - A particularly photogenic National
Park, with its wind-sculpted colorful rock formations
- Death Valley - California - The
largest national park in the contiguous United States - reputedly the
hottest place on earth.
- Crater Lake Oregon
- A small but spectacular NP in north California
- Grand Teton -
Wyoming - This dramatic mountain park is contiguous with
- Great Sand Dunes
Colorado - A unique, and unexpected
area of pristine sand dunes
- Mesa Verde Colorado
- Most unexpected - historic cliff dwellings dating
back many centuries
- The Grand Canyon-
Arizona - The best internationally known National
Park in the USA
- Yellowstone -
Wyoming Montana and Idaho- The oldest of the
National Parks in the USA. Amazing wildlife and geothermal landmarks
California - The great Californian valley made famous
originally in the photos of Ansell Adams.
Parks in the east of the USA
Unlike in the west, most land in the east of the USA was already in
private hands by the mid 19th century. However after the National Park
system was set up, the US government set about buying up tracts of
spectacular and largely uninhabited land, to preserve it in the same
way as the public lands in the West. The fedreal government did not
encounter much resistance to this, and indeed many landowners were
happy to donate their parts of their land to the government.
- Acadia - Maine - Includes
mainland coast and islands along the rockiest part of the American
Atlantic coast, including the highest mountains on this coast.
- Great Smoky Mountains Tennessee, North
Carolina - A large National Park in the
southern Mountains - much of it natural American deciduous
forest. Being easily accessible from cities on the eastern seaboard,
this is America's most visited National Park.
- Everglades Florida -
The most extensive wetlands in the USA, under threat from rising sea
- New River Gorge West Virginia
- The most recently designated National Park in
the USA. Designated a National Park in 2021, it is part of a much
larger area known as a National Preserve
icing on the cake, areas of natural landscape
protected by the US Government at the federal level.
In addition to these, the United States boasts hundreds more federally
protected areas, known as National
or National Recreation Areas
protected for their historic significance.
In addition there are also
many hundreds of State Parks
areas similar to National Parks that have
been set aside for preservation by individual states, not by the
A small sample of Historic sites
- Gettysburg -
site of the defining battle of the American Civil War
- Vicksburg -
another civil war site
- Golden Spike -
National Historical Park - the historic point at which the first
transcontinental railroad was officially linked up in 1869
- Flaming Gorge
National Recreation Area - Utah
For more background to the USA.....
Book / ebook
Background to modern America
people, places and
that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern
America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other
languages, and anyone wanting to learn some of the background
today's USA. Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and
exercises. Linguapress 2023.
For California, discover About-California.com
, a short