We'll start off with two of the best parks for wildlife with Yellowstone and Denali.
Yellowstone, located in northwest Wyoming, was America's first national park, established in 1872. It is the second largest park in the continental US (behind Death Valley) and is known for its many geysers and hot springs.
Seated on top of one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world, Yellowstone contains over 60% of the world's geysers as well as numerous mudpots and hotsprings. Geysers are holes in the ground through which hot water shoots up from within the Earth. Geysers can range in size from barely breaking the surface, to mammoth waterspouts of several hundred feet.
One of the most famous geysers is, without a doubt, Old Faithful. Located next to the Old Faithful Lodge, it is extremely predictable, erupting roughly every 90 minutes, shooting water an average of 145ft into the air for an average of 5 minutes. The predictability, as well as the impressiveness of the stream, are the main reasons for the enduring popularity of Old Faithful.
|Old Faithful staying true to its namesake as visitors look on. Google Images|
Another reason for Yellowstone's immense popularity (over 3 million people visit the park every summer) is the quantity and diversity of wildlife, specifically the megafauna. A typical drive through Yellowstone might include sightings of bison (actually, if you don't see a bison you must not have your eyes open) elk, grizzly bears, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and, if you're extremely lucky, you might see the resident pack of gray wolves that lives in the Lamar Valley.
|The herd grazes with small geysers and hot springs in the background. Google Images|
But if you truly want to see big wildlife, and lots of it, Denali is the place to go.
Denali National Park and Preserve is in the interior of Alaska and is centered around Mt. McKinley (called Denali "The High One" by Native Americans) the highest point in North America.
Like most Alaskan parks, Denali is almost entirely wilderness. There is one road in the park, and only the first 15 miles of this road is open to private vehicles. Therefore, there are really only two ways in which you can experience the park.
The first is by hiking and camping in the backcountry. To do this, you must be extremely competent. Denali allows no room for error, and dangers abound including severe weather and large animals.
The second is by riding the park bus which drives to the end of the park road and back everyday, allowing visitors to see the beauty of Denali. This is what my family and I elected to do when we visited in the summer of 2006.
We had perfect weather, and the animals were out in force. We saw the "Big 5" of Denali in grizzly bears, caribou, a bull moose with a huge rack, grey wolves and their cubs, and Dall's sheep.
|A Caribou silhouetted against Denali. Google Images|
Check back Thursday for the next two on my list, Arches and Zion in the American Southwest.