Valdosta Daily Times


August 4, 2013

Hidden Gems: Visiting underrated national parks and monuments


- — National Parks

Big Bend National Park (Texas): The drive south toward Big Bend National Park from the small Texas town of Marathon appears to lead to the end of the earth. It doesn’t, of course, only to the Mexican border at the Rio Grande River. Still, the vastness and beauty of this land of mountains, desert, and steep-walled canyons is amazing. The park, named for its location on the bend of the Rio Grande, is a favorite destination for birdwatchers, while the more adventurous choose to raft the river or hike some of the nearly 200 miles of trails. Fall and spring are ideal times to visit Big Bend that can get quite hot during the summer months. Chisos Mountains Lodge and several campgrounds are within the park which is fortunate because several days are required to get a real flavor for this 800,000-acre treasure.

Great Basin National Park (Nevada): This isolated gem in eastern Nevada protects 77,000 acres of America’s Great Basin, a vast area that incorporates western Utah and nearly all of Nevada. The park offers rugged desert, scenic mountains, an extensive cave system, and 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees that are among the oldest living things on earth.

The focal point is 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak that offers road access to an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet. Views along the road are outstanding. The park has more than 40 known caves, the best-known of which is Lehman in which guided tours are offered by park rangers. The park has several campgrounds including three on the road up Wheeler Peak.

Several creeks offer excellent trout fishing. Limited motel rooms are available nearby in the small town of Baker.

Lassen Volcanic National Park (California): Lassen has been a favorite of ours since we first visited in the mid-1970s. Even many California residents seem to know little about this wonderful park that contains four types of volcanoes. Hydrothermal features in the park include fumaroles, mud pots, and boiling pools. The park centers on Lassen Peak, where the 1914-17 series of volcanic eruptions were the last in the continental U.S. prior to Mount St. Helen’s in 1980. Much of the park is accessible via a 30-mile paved road that connects the southwest and northwest entrances. Hiking the trail to the top of Lassen Peak takes approximately five hours roundtrip. Lodging is available at Drakesbad Guest Ranch accessible from the small town of Chester. Camper cabins are available at Manzanita Lake just inside the northwest entrance.

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