There are 59 recognized National Parks in the United States, the first of which was Yellowstone National Park, which was designated by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. For over 100 years, the National Park Service has been charged with the care of the designated National Park sites in the United States. This week we celebrate National Park Week, so what better time is there to delve a little bit deeper into a few of these unique and historic sites? We’ll also take a look at some of the Safari Ltd® figures that represent the unique and precious wildlife that, in some cases, can be found nowhere else on Earth. Keep reading to check out some of the unique parks we’ve selected that we think stand out, but remember: these are just a few of the awesome parks you can visit in the U.S.
Everglades National Park
Our national parks are home to some amazing scenery, unique environments, and incredible animals. Here at Safari Ltd® HQ in Miami Lakes, Florida, we’re fortunate enough to have Everglades National Park right around the corner. This park, located at the southern tip of mainland Florida, protects a unique tropical wetlands ecosystem known as the “River of Grass”. It’s unlike anything you’re likely to find anywhere else in the world! The area is known for its sawgrass marshes and hammocks, which are small tree islands.
These swamps are home to some awesome animals, including the iconic American alligator, which we’ve adopted for our mascot, Bernie. Alligators were once endangered, but through recovery efforts they have become one of the United States’ greatest success stories in conservation. The park also contains anhingas, raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deers, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, spoonbills and much more. The coastal prairies where the fresh water of the Everglades meets the saltwater of the ocean are home to manatees, bottlenose dolphins, nurse sharks and hammerhead sharks. The Everglades and surrounding area is also the only place in the entire United States where you can observe American crocodiles in the wild!
Yellowstone National Park
The very first of the national parks to be established in the United States, Yellowstone covers area in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It features forests, grasslands, lakes and rivers and a wide range of geographical features including mountain ranges, waterfalls, plateaus, hot springs and geysers. The most famous geyser is undoubtedly Old Faithful, which erupts about every 90 minutes or so. The many geological structures throughout Yellowstone are due to its location atop an underground Supervolcano known as the Yellowstone Caldera. But don’t worry, this volcano hasn’t erupted in 640,000 years, and scientists do not anticipate an eruption in the near future.
Yellowstone is home to a diverse range of animal life, including bears (both black and grizzly), wolves, foxes, coyotes, pronghorn, moose, mountain lions, white pelicans, great horned owls, barn owls, screech owls, badgers, and Townsend’s big-eared bats. By far the most common animals encountered in the park, however, are bison. There are approximately 4,000 of these bovine beasts currently in the park, and the population has existed there since prehistoric times. In the early 1900s there were less than 50 bison in the park, but conservation and reintroduction efforts have helped the animal make an amazing recovery.
Saguaro National Park
Named for the giant saguaro cacti that feature heavily throughout its landscape, the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona is split into two parts, one on either side of the city. In the west lies the Tucson Mountain District, and in the east is the Rincon Mountain District. The park lies in the Sonoran Desert, which is the only place where the saguaro cactus naturally grows. Hiking trails are very popular in this park, but if you go make sure you adhere closely to the safety guidelines! Extreme heat, flooding, cactus spines and snakes are all hazards that need to be taken into account.
Many unique animals can be found in the Saguaro National Park, including the Gila monster, the largest lizard native to the U.S. These reptiles are quite distinctive because of their vibrant black and orange coloration. These markings give a loud warning to all: these lizards are venomous! In fact, they’re the only venomous lizard in the United States. No fatal bites have been reported since 1939, but several people do get bitten every year – usually from trying to handle them. Like human fingerprints, the markings of every Gila monster are unique, so Saguaro encourages visitors to take photos of the lizards to aid in research efforts. Just be sure to keep your distance when snapping a photo, so you don’t get snapped yourself!
The park is also home to horned lizards, bobcats, ravens, desert tortoises, coral snakes and peccaries (known there by their Spanish name, “javelinas”). These creatures must learn to survive in an environment where temperatures can get up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest days, and drop below freezing at night. Most visitors tend to limit their trips to the cooler months between the Fall and Spring.
Channel Islands National Park
Another unique park is Channel Islands National Park, which covers five out of the eight Channel Islands off the California coast. Though close to shore, these islands are not very developed and are sometimes called “The Galapagos of California” because of their biological diversity. More than 2,000 species of plants and animals call these islands home, and 145 animal species are endemic to the islands, meaning they aren’t found anywhere else on Earth! Because of their aquatic locale, a big draw to the Channel Islands is the many kinds of marine life that can be viewed when visiting, including mammals like sea lions, gray whales, blue whales, humpbacks and orcas. The area also is home to shark species including bull, tiger, and great white sharks.
Though they usually prefer colder and deeper water than those off the coasts of the Channel Islands, great white sharks are spotted with some regularity each summer when they venture to warmer waters to birth their pups. Though often portrayed as a “ferocious man-eater,” attacks on humans are usually deemed test bites, the result of the shark confusing a human for its preferred prey – sea lions, seals, dolphins, and sea turtles. It’s a rare treat to see one of these amazing sharks near the Channel Islands, but sometimes visitors on whale-watching cruises get lucky!
Seabirds and shorebirds also frequent the Channel Islands. Many varieties of birds nest there, and even an accidental visit from an albatross or a blue-footed booby isn’t unheard of! These birds are known to live in the area, but don’t set up residence on the islands the way so many other bird species do. Officially classified as “Accidental Species,” the blue-footed booby has been sighted on Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island, and three different species of albatross have been reported on all five islands.
National Parks – Helping Animals Recover
Several programs are underway in many parks to help vulnerable or threatened animal populations recover. These efforts include tracking declining populations, introducing captive bred animals into the wild, and raising awareness among the public and park visitors.
In Pinnacles National Park, efforts are underway to help the critically endangered California condor by releasing captive born animals into the park. Pinnacles helps with trapping, monitoring, and releasing condors in the area, and educates the public on the necessity of revitalizing this endangered species.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico attracts visitors with its “Bat Flight” program, where visitors can watch Brazilian free-tailed bats exit their cave each night to prepare for a feast! There is a large colony of bats who live in the caves year-round, and others who merely stop by during migrations. In 2005, the resident colony numbered around 400,000 bats! The park is also home to 16 other species of bat.
Additionally, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in La Junta, Colorado tracks the declining population of black-tailed prairie dogs, to better understand the issues they face and hopefully revitalize their numbers.
National parks offer an excellent opportunity to see incredible animals, many of which are unique to specific regions of the United States, in their natural habitat. And Safari Ltd gives you the opportunity to take many of these animals home with you in the form of our figures! So what are you waiting for? Schedule a trip to check out one of these amazing parks today!
Special thanks to Kristina Guice, Communications Specialist of the Western National Parks Association, for her assistance with this article.