The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016! Happy Birthday, National Parks!
When exploring America’s 401 national parks, which cover nearly 340,000 square kilometers (or 84 million acres), you’ll marvel at sky-high trees and get lost in the longest cave system in the world. You’ll unearth dinosaur fossils and surf down sand dunes. You’ll even tiptoe across glaciers and peer into active volcanoes. The parkland is magnificent in both its diversity and beauty. It’s also surprising. In honor of the National Parks Centennial, here are several impressive and unexpected facts about America’s world-renowned park system.
1. A grizzly bear might be scary, but it isn’t the most dangerous thing you’ll encounter in the national parks.
National parks are home to several species of predators, including rattlesnakes, great white sharks, and grizzly bears. Wild animals, however, are not the leading cause of park fatalities; water is! The National Park Service reports accidental drowning is the leading cause of death, responsible for up to 34 percent of park deaths. Falls are second at 14 percent and car accidents third at 12 percent. Apparently grizzly bears and other scary animals are no match for the damage humans can do to themselves! It should be noted, however, the odds of dying in a national park are really low; 1 in 2 million to be exact!
2. The National Park Service overseas approximately 84 million acres of wilderness areas and national monuments
Grand Canyon National Park comes in at second, with 5,520,736 visitors.Insider Tip: While the South Rim is the most visited spot of the Grand Canyon, the North Rim is at a higher elevation, which means it has more trees and cooler temperatures. Because it isn’t as well known, there are less people, which makes it a great place to go to see wildlife (like deer, elk and bighorn sheep). The best time to hike or bike the Grand Canyon‘s North Rim is during the summer months, when the average daily temperature is a moderate 75 degrees.
4. The park ranger uniform was designed by The US Army Cavalry
Prior to the establishment of the National Park Service, there were many park caretakers, but the most prominent was the US Cavalry. It was responsible for overseeing park services from 1886 to 1916, which was when the prototype for today’s park ranger uniform was first introduced. The wide-brimmed hat park rangers still wear today? We have the US Calvary to thank for that. Today’s rangers pay homage to the early park protectors by continuing to wear the uniform.
5. The NPS once encouraged bears to eat the parks’ garbage
Black bear photo to the left at Yellowstone National Park circa 1905. Bear photo to right in Asheville, North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of anoldent.
From the 1900s to the 1940s, the bears in Yellowstone National Park were encouraged to feast on the garbage from the park’s dump in order to entertain park guests. The nightly “bear shows” were so popular, wooden bleachers were set up for guests to sit on. As the black and grizzly bears munched on food scraps, a park ranger would give a talk, educating visitors about the bears. Guess ‘do not feed the bears’ wasn’t part of the talk? The viewing area was eventually removed due to safety concerns, but the garbage dump—and the dumpster-diving bears—remained until the 1970s.
6. ‘Old Faithful’ in Yellowstone National Park was once a Laundromat
This photo of Old Faithful was taken in 1877 by William Henry Jackson. Photo is available via public domain.
People have thrown some odd items into Yellowstone’s Old Faithful over the years, but dirty clothes? That’s got to be one of the weirder. In 1887, a family decided to conduct an experiment. They threw their laundry into the famous geyser to see if it was possible for the pressure and boiling water to clean their clothes. Surprising, the clothes turned out spick and span! Although the geyser did a decent job operating as washing machine, the NPS does recommend using a national park as a laundry facility. Go figure!
7. The Park Service loves President Theodore Roosevelt
Here’s a fun fact: President Roosevelt has more national monuments and parks named for him than any other American! There is a good reason for the honor. Roosevelt, who loved the parks and the outdoors in general—he had a ranch in South Dakota and reported loved bison—did much to advance their work. He helped establish five national parks while he was president and established 18 memorials by signing the Antiquities Act.
8. Yellowstone was the world’s first national park! …Or was it?
Although Yellowstone National Park, which was established in 1872, is technically the word’s first national park, some argue that that title more accurately belongs to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Hot Springs was officially made a “federally protected land” by President Andrew Jackson in 1832, almost 40 years before Yellowstone became nationally recognized. Hot Springs wasn’t declared a national park until 1921, however.
Whether Yellowstone was the first national park or not, with over 40 major waterfalls and 300 active geysers, it remains one of the most visited parks in the country—and for good reason! It’s breathtaking.
Whether you are embarking one of the exciting hiking or biking guided tours of Yellowstone, make sure to wake up at sunrise. This is the best time to see wildlife, as the park’s animals are most active at dawn.
Escape Adventures offers hike, camp and bike tours in the USA and across many of America’s national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Please call 702-596-2953 for more details about the many family biking adventures we offer!