Secret Wonders: Little-Known National Parks

by Laurel Delp Subscribe to Laurel Delp's posts Posted Aug 15th 2009 05:22 PM

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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

When the President recently signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, two million acres were added to existing parks and wilderness areas in nine states, and 1,000 miles of rivers came under protection. The U.S. has always led the way in preserving public land, and many of our parks are world-renownedsYellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Zionsbut in this prime season for park-visiting, it seems only fitting to honor some of the lesser-known, more lightly-visited parks, each with something unforgettable to offer. We haven't included historical parks, since there was such a wealth of magnificent natural beauty from which to choose. And with one exception, all these parks are open year-round, providing many different ways to experience them, from hot summers to snow pack.




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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

A hundred ten miles east of El Paso in west Texas, this spectacular park is so far off the beaten path, it's little known and lightly visited. The dramatic mountains are the remains of fossilized reef that formed 250 million years ago, when the area was covered by ocean. Rich coniferous forests on the mountainsides descend to harsh desert cacti. Coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer and 300 bird species can be seen from 80 miles of trail, along with three species of horned lizards.

Visitor information: 915-828-3251.




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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

Some of the tallest sand dunes in North America are not at the beach, they're in south-central Colorado, reaching as high as 750 feet. This 150,000-acre park is a vast wilderness that includes grasslands and wetlands, with forested mountain peaks rising as high as 13,000 feet. The park is lightly visited, but the dunes can be crowded in the summer (although hiking away from the parking area brings solitude) as everyone tries sand-boarding, sledding and skiing. Spring and fall are the time to go.

Visitor information: 719-378-6300.


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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

Far from a secret, this park made up of five islands off California's central coast between the cities of Ventura (70 miles north of Los Angeles) and Santa Barbara is reachable only by boat, keeping this one of our least-visited parks. The islands' waters are crowded with Pacific grey whales in winter, and 10 percent of the world's blue whales in summer. Dolphins are plentiful year round. Rare birds include Xantu's murrelets, bald agles and peregrine falcons. There are no fees for entrance, but $15 per night is charged for camping.
Visitor information: 805-658-5730.



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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

Most people know about California's Mojave Desert and Death Valley, equally striking is this 800,000-acre desert park 140 miles east of Los Angeles, offering startling granite rock formations, a cliff top view over the San Andreas Fault an masses of Joshua trees, a variety of yucca (in the lily family) that resembles stick figures, their arms stretched skyward as if in prayer. In late February they begin to burst into creamy blooms, and shortly thereafter come wildflowers. Rock climbers love this park, as do hikers, but it can also be viewed by car.

Visitor Information: 760-367-5500.



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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

Ever wondered what it would be like to be on an island in a lake inside an island in the world's largest freshwater lake? That's Ryan Island in Sisikwit Lake on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980, and reachable only by Park Service-operated ferries or seaplane (which naturally limits the number of visitors) or private boat, this remote Michigan park occupies 132,018 acres on a road-free, forest-clad 45-mile-long island plus some 400 small islands in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. The park closes between November 1 and April 16. The park is 52 miles north of the airport at Houghton, Michigan. Reservations are taken from January 2 each year.

Visitor Information: 906-482-0984.




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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

Not as well known as South Dakota's other parks (like Rushmore or Badlands), and with fewer visitors, Wind Cave is in the Black Hills, and includes 28,295 acres of prairie land-along with the 4th longest cave in the world. Guided tours of the cave range from 45 minutes to four hours, including a visit by candlelight or a wild cave tour, which involves some crawling. The prairies are great for birders, and harbor bison, pronghorn and elk.
Visitor information: 605-745-4600.



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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

Discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, these 7 islands 70 miles west of Key West in Florida are reachable only by boat or seaplane, and they're not kidding about dry-you must bring your own water. The park contains rambling 19th century Fort Jefferson, and is a feast for birders (sooty terns, brown noodies, cormorants and pelicans) but their primary attraction is the surrounding marine life, perfect for fishing, scuba diving to wrecks and snorkeling on the coral reef. There's camping, but no lodging.
Visitor information: 305-242-7711.



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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

There are no roads to this magnificent 1.7 million-acre park in north central Alaska, that's about as remote as you can get, pristine, and solitary. You'll have to fly to Kotzbue and go by air taxi into the park. Some 500,000 caribou cross in spring and fall on their way between feeding grounds. At Onion Portage, you can see archaeological evidence of prehistoric tribes who hunted the caribou. The park is home to grizzly bears, mink and musk ox, and the Kobuk River is a fisherman's paradise. Forty miles above the arctic circle, sand dunes rise as high as 100 feet, and reflected light brings summer temperatures to 100 degrees.
Visitor information: 907-442-3890.



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Secret Wonders: National Parks That No One Knows

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