We know this looks
like a book, but our collection of pages is actually more like a secret decoder ring or a pair of X-ray glasses because it will help you see some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States in a whole new way. Whether you’re traveling through the national parks by car, bicycle, boat, or foot, or even in your imagination, this is an opportunity to unlock the scientific stories behind the scenery.
This guidebook will teach you to spot the extraterrestrial-like organisms lurking in Yellowstone, the spiky teddy bear clones in Joshua Tree, the slick snails of Acadia—and more! Contained here are true stories about plants, rocks, animals, bodies of water, and the night sky that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else than in these parks. We’ve steered away from people-centric history and from big, obvious questions (like, How did the Grand Canyon form?) in favor of more fascinating, offbeat questions (like, How are strange ocean animals that look like plants connected to the rocks that make up the Grand Canyon?). This is an invitation to be inquisitive and pay attention to the small details that bring the big picture into view.
We had a blast writing this book and hope our work sets you off on a question-asking frenzy of your own. Go forth and get curious!How to Use this Book
Taking a cue from the National Park Service (NPS), we have organized the sixty national parks featured in this book by region: Pacific Northwest, California, Intermountain West, Midwest, East, Islands, and Alaska. You’ll find some handy color-coded page edges to help you navigate. Within each region, parks are listed in descending order based on annual visitation at the time of writing.
At the beginning of each park’s profile, you’ll find a spot to get your National Park Passport Stamp from a visitor center and a page featuring some park statistics, including the park’s four-letter code. These are the same codes the Park Service uses—real insider info! Known as Alpha Codes, the formula for them goes like this: If a park name is one word (Yosemite), the code is the first four letters (YOSE). For names that are two or more words (Crater Lake), the code is the first two letters of the first two words (CRLA). As with any system, there are exceptions, including two sister parks that share the same code.
Within each profile, we’ve highlighted one to three particularly notable stories about wildlife, geology, botany, and a few wildcards. All of the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences we talk about can be found in the main, developed areas of the parks. Many storylines provide illustrations to give you a better sense of what to look for. We’ve also included some cross references in the text, but use the index to find additional information about subjects that might cross several parks.
As you head out to explore, two pieces of basic gear will make all the difference: sturdy binoculars are great for daytime views and double as a telescope at night; and a loupe, hand lens, or small magnifying glass will help you see small details on plants and rocks.Why We Wrote this Book
As best friends and avid fans of the national parks, we noticed that there are far more science stories happening in each park than could ever be interpreted by staff and scientists—the land is just too remarkable and vast. Even though research about some of the “lesser known” science is happening, there is only so much that can be curated for public consumption. What’s a park-loving science-nerd to do?
We decided to take on that problem. We did endless hours of research to find compelling features, talked to the amazing people studying the science of how those features work, and tried to break what we call the artificial barrier between scientists and the general public. We especially wanted to hear from women doing this research in order to amplify their voices in the parks and in science. We did our best to curate content that will inspire your own curiosity while delighting you along the way.Land Recognition
The land that now makes up the United States of America and its territories has been occupied, cared for, studied, and deeply understood by Native and Indigenous peoples for tens of thousands of years. They are the original storytellers and record keepers of these places, and they continue to maintain ancient and unending ties to the land. Many modern Native groups still live close to public lands of many kinds, including national parks, and they have fought hard to be able to continue their relationships with these spaces that are now open to all.
Out of respect for the people who are the original stewards of these amazing places, we encourage you to take time during your trip planning or armchair perusing to learn about the historic and modern Native groups associated with the locations you will visit. When you’re in the parks, take a moment to explore nearby tribal tourism or cultural centers and consider staying in a Native-owned hotel, finding a Native-led guided tour, or visiting a community market to support local vendors.
We are not the first people to find these landscapes awe-inspiring and worthy of celebration. Let’s honor those who cared for them first and know them best by learning about their cultures and respecting their homelands.Safety in the Parks
When you’re out and about in the parks, there are many safety issues to take into consideration. This list is not comprehensive, but here are some general safety tips to keep in mind as you explore. Be sure to always use common sense, and to visit the visitor center when you arrive at a park to ensure you know its particular safety policies—each park is unique!
Copyright © 2020 by Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.