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 National Parks Part 4: North West
By  Anastasia lliou

The National Parks system turns 100 on August 25th, which perfectly allows us to conclude our four-part National Parks piece in the northwestern United States, home of some of the largest, most incredible protected parks in the world. You’ve heard of Yosemite and you know about the mountain ranges, but have you heard of these gems?

Stehekin, North Cascades National Park, WA

While I will typically focus on lesser-known and smaller parks, It was hard to leave the 504,781-acre North Cascades off of the list once I found out about Stehekin, which is like a smaller, lesser-known park inside the monster that is the Cascades. The name comes from a Salishan word meaning “the way through,” and that is quite literally what Stehekin is. For centuries, it has served as a water passageway for travelers. It leads from Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in America.

STEHEKINIn my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful things about Stehekin is the lack of cell service and connecting roads. You are truly out in the wild west. You can get to Stehekin by foot, horseback, ferry, float plane, or private boat. Early settlers built a 25-room hotel called “Fields Hotel” as the location was prime for an overnight stay. That hotel was demolished in 1926. While you won’t find a five-star hotel there today, there are over ten different camping sites, surrounded by twelve hiking trails of different levels and with different challenges. If you’re curious about more of the history of the North Cascades and Lake Chelan, check out the visitors center for a history lesson on the Chelan Native American tribe.

Crater Lake, OR

Crater Lake was created from a volcano almost 8,000 years ago and it is now the deepest lake in the United States. The lake is often invisible as it is covered by clouds, but the National Park Service has a webcam that will tell you whether or not it’s a good day to visit. A great way to get started is by taking a tour on the Crater Lake Trolley.

CRATER LAKEhe lake is considered one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon.” Just one example of a formation within the lake that you can explore is “Wizard Island.” Natives (Klamath tribe) used the island for spiritual quests, believing it was steeped in mystery. You can take a boat to the island, hike the shoreline, and spend some quality time swimming or fishing around it - but watch out for the crayfish. The Klamath tribe believed them to be cursed.

The most breathtaking part of Crater Lake is Rim Drive. Rim Village Historic District is the main visitor center which includes a lodge and an overlook. Rim Drive itself is a 33-mile scenic highway that will provide you with views you never imagined seeing. Occasionally, the road is closed to allow foot traffic, which is an opportunity you cannot pass up.

John Day Fossil Beds, OR

Embrace your inner Ross Geller and feel like you’re on another planet at the John Day Fossil Beds. The park is divided into three units, each offering unique and incredible views of colorful rock formations. The Sheep Rock Unit holds exposures of the Turtle Cove Strata, in other words a blueish-green rock formation with thousands of years of volcanic ash. This unit is also where you’ll find the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.  For a focus on human history, visit the Cant Ranch Museum.

JOHN DAYThe Painted Hills Unit looks, well, painted. Much like the famous Painted Desert in Arizona, the Painted Hills are coated in yellows, golds, blacks and reds that shine best in the mid-afternoon sun. You’ll feel like you’ve left the country, if not the planet, when you see the colorful formations in the desert-like terrain. Last but not least, the Clarno Unit holds the Palisades, the most prominent formation in the park. Hundreds of ancient fossils have been found here, and it’s the best way to experience central Oregon in all of its desert-like glory.

Craters of The Moon, ID

Like most of these northwestern parks, Craters of The Moon sits on over 750,000 acres of protected land - that’s about as big as the state of Rhode Island. Some of the volcanic lava flow can be seen from space. I can’t make this stuff up. In 1969, Apollo 14 astronauts actually used the landscape of the park to study and practice for future trips to the moon. The volcanic makeup is the most similar land to the moon that they will find on Earth.

The park falls within the Rocky Mountains and includes the Snake River - a body of water that native (Shoshone and Bannock) legend says was once a giant serpent. There is amazing spelunking, with several different caves that you can explore along the cave trail. If you’re not a fan of enclosed spaces, you can visit the regular hiking trails instead, where you’ll be surrounded by black lava and your childhood “the floor is lava” games may seem less exciting. Your hike in Craters of The Moon is going to be a hot one, with the sun reflecting off the lava, but that’s not meant to turn you away. The things you’ll see will be unlike anything else in the world. In the winter, you can do the same thing in snowshoes or on skis.

Devils Tower, WY

Wyoming, much like Idaho, is one of those states that everyone asks, “what can you do there?” It’s the great wild west, for crying out loud! Everywhere you turn there is another beautiful landmark; Devil’s Tower is one of them. The most amazing part of this feature is the nighttime view. Nothing else is around, the lighting is all natural, and you’ll think you’re looking at a postcard - but it’s the real thing. Ursa Major, of “The Big Bear,” is one of many constellations that you’ll have an excellent view of from either Joyner Ridge or the Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture and Picnic Area.

The land around the tower has experienced its fair share of erosion, but the Belle Fourche River still stands (though geologists believe it was much bigger years ago). You’ll cross over this river when entering the park, and you can enjoy boating and fishing in the reservoir. From the tower, you can see the Little Missouri Buttes, four formations very similar to the tower, named for the Little Missouri River. If you plan on climbing, check with the NPS before you go. There are often several closures due to weather, erosion, and even Native American ceremonies.

Originally, Devils Tower was actually named “Bear Lodge” in regards to, well, an abundance of bears. The name didn’t change until the early 1900s with an expedition by Colonel Irving Richard Dodge, who likely mistranslated the Native American name. Today, the name is spelt without an apostrophe because of an old grammatical error that was never rectified.

GRANT KOHRSGrant-Kohrs Ranch, MT
Grant-Kohrs Ranch is the epitome of the state of Montana. The land is still a working ranch, but visitors are free to explore on their own. You’ll see historic buggies, sheds, and tools and picture the life of an early cowboy in the West. You can also view the natural grassland habitats by walking down the Cottonwood Creek trail or the Clark Fork River trail. Kids can practice roping a wooden steer after trying on cowboy clothes and visit the live chickens and cattle.
GRANT KHORSIf you’d prefer a guided tour, you can get on a horse-drawn buggy and learn how to live like the cowboys did or tour the ranch house and learn about Johnny Grant, who sold the house to Conrad Kohrs, who later became the “Cattle King.”

The history of Grant-Kohrs Ranch is bittersweet. The wide, open land was a result of the downfall of the American bison. Very few of those magnificent creatures still exist, and they’re all at Yellowstone. However, their demise led to a lot of farming and living opportunities for western settlers. Cattle drives were often led towards Grant-Kohrs Ranch because of the opportunity for open range cattle. This open range era ended after the winter of 1886, when blizzard after blizzard prevented cows from eating and caused hypothermia and other diseases.

If you want to step back even farther in history than the wild west, Hovenweep is home to six prehistoric villages. While backpacking is not permitted, the hiking trails will take you through all of that history.
HOVENWEEPThe Cajon Group area features a man-made canon where 80-100 people may have lived. The fact that it still stands (partially) today is a testament to the construction abilities of the Puebloans. The same goes for the Cutthroat Castle, which was not documented until 1929 but is likely a survivor of the Puebloans as well. Several similar structures can be found around the park.

Utah is home to hundreds of parks and sites like this, but this one is relatively under the radar, and the structures are unique enough to make it a “must-see” on your list. The park is far south on the Utah/Colorado border, making it a great road trip stop from Colorado to the Grand Canyon. I highly recommend a western road trip like that to hit all of these unbelievable places.

Lake Mead, NV

Lake Mead is only 24 miles from the Vegas strip and is a great break from the craziness that a trip to Vegas may bring. It also falls over the border of Arizona. Year-round horseback riding, hiking, boating, and fishing is available and you won’t get bored of its nine separate wilderness areas. Certain spots, like Pipe Spring (area of granite and metamorphic rock) and Redstone (ancient sand dunes) are often overlooked by visitors but are some of the most exciting spots around the lake. The best way to make sure you don’t miss anything like that is to take a guided tour.

What’s unique about Lake Mead is that its proximity to Las Vegas makes it one of the more populated national parks. I normally would recommend visits to more remote areas, like Hovenweep, but Lake Mead is so easily overlooked by Vegas visitors that it seemed necessary to add to my list. The larger population means you won’t have to drive 20 miles to find a decent meal. The Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Marina, East Lake Mead, and Lake Mohave all offer their delicious food services. / Issue 184 - September 1644
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