In celebration of the National Parks Service’s 100th birthday, we’re bringing you our favorite least known facts about what’s arguably the greatest idea America ever had.
1) Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain isn’t just the highest peak on the East Coast. At certain times of the year, it’s also the first place in the entire country to see the sunrise. And yes, both the mountain and the automaker are named after the same French explorer.
2) In 2010, a seven-year-old girl discovered that rhinos and saber-tooth tigers once called Badlands National Park in South Dakota home. Now, you’ll just find prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and probably lots of geologists.
3) Go under the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico and you’ll encounter the Carlsbad Caverns, formed from limestone slowly dissolving via sulfuric acid. The mineral deposits that make up the 119 cave structure are so old, they’ve been growing since the Ice Age.
4) At 8749 ft high, the Guadalupe Mountains are the highest in Texas. But what makes them spectacular is that they’re actually the remains of an ancient ocean reef. Millions of years ago, the entire area was under water.
5) This one will take a few reads through, but bear with us. Ryan Island, inside Siskiwit Lake, inside Isle Royal National Park, Michigan, is the biggest island within the largest lake on the biggest island within the largest freshwater lake in the world. We’re still having trouble figuring this one out.
6) California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park has an almost unbelievable backstory. In June of 1914, Mount Lassen started rumbling, so three men climbed to the peak to find out why. Turns out, it was an active volcano, and as soon as they reached the top, the darn thing erupted, sending them running for their lives. Somehow, all three managed to escape, and it was designated a National Park two years later. Though still active, it hasn’t made a peep since 1921. Almost like it’s daring us…
7) Along with holding the title for world’s longest cave system, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park was also discovered and first-mapped by Stephen Bishop – a slave for most of his life.
8) The first people to arrive at Mesa Verde National Park got there around 9500 BC. They built the first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the 12th Century AD they built the massive cliff dwellings the park is known for – all 600 of them. So it’s no surprise it’s home to over 4700 archeological sites. Bonus fact: it’s not actually a mesa at all. Mesas are perfectly flat. It’s a series of cuestas (which slant to the south) situated between canyons.
9) The archipelago of seven islands that make up the National Park of American Samoa can claim it’s the “only one” for a lot of things: only US National Park in the Southern Hemisphere, only park that combines tropical rainforests with a protected coral reef, AND only park that requires a US passport.
10) Along with being home to some of the earliest dinosaurs, Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is 200 million years old. The petrified trees from which it gets its name are almost completely turned to quartz – and can only be cut with a diamond-tipped saw.