June 29th, 2012 by

By Michelle Werts

Have you ever marveled at the diversity of America’s national parks? If not, today is your chance as we celebrate two drastically different, but equally impressive locations.

As I experienced last week on my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, that area of the country is full of some spectacular landscapes — and one of those landscapes is celebrating an anniversary today.

On June 29, 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed legislation creating Washington’s Olympic National Park, preserving and protecting almost 100,000 acres that encompass a great diversity of landscapes and ecosystems:

  • Some of the largest areas of old-growth forest and temperate rainforest in the lower 48 states, plus three other forest types (coastal, montane, subalpine).
  • More than 1,450 types of vascular plants — equal to the number on the much larger British Isles.
  • The glacier- and stream-carved peaks of the Olympic Mountains.
  • The 73 miles of wilderness coastline with its sandy beaches, tidepools and rocky cliffs.
  • More than 10 major river systems that provide habitat for a variety of aquatic species.

It’s no wonder that the United Nations named this majestic, diverse landscape a World Heritage Site in 1981.

  • Olympic National Park. Credit: Jason Pratt/Flickr Olympic National Park. Credit: Jason Pratt/Flickr
  • Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park. Credit: Evan Balbier ([evan hunter])/Flickr Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park. Credit: Evan Balbier ([evan hunter])/Flickr
  • Marymere Fall, Olympic National Park. Credit: Rickz/Flickr Marymere Fall, Olympic National Park. Credit: Rickz/Flickr
  • Hoh River Valley rainforest, Olympic National Park. Credit: James Gaither (J.G. in S.F.)/Flickr Hoh River Valley rainforest, Olympic National Park. Credit: James Gaither (J.G. in S.F.)/Flickr
  • Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park. Credit: Hawthorne Ave/Flickr Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park. Credit: Hawthorne Ave/Flickr
  • View from Anderson Pass, overlooking Dosewallips Valley, Olympic National Park. Credit: ((brian))/Flickr View from Anderson Pass, overlooking Dosewallips Valley, Olympic National Park. Credit: ((brian))/Flickr
     

Also celebrating an anniversary today is a national park known more for its history than its landscape: Mesa Verde National Park. According to the park’s website President Theodore Roosevelt established it on this date in 1906 to “preserve the works of man,” making it the first national park of its kind.

Located in Southwest Colorado, the park protects more than 4,000 known archeological sites, such as cliff dwellings, pueblos, masonry towers and other structures that were constructed by Pueblo Indians, who inhabited the region from about 550 to 1300 A.D. The famous cliff dwellings, like Cliff Palace, are multi-story, multi-room structures built of sandstone and mud mortar. Like Olympic National Park, Mesa Verde is a United Nations World Heritage site. Mesa Verde also represents one of my favorite aspects of America’s national park system: It recognizes beauty in a variety of ways, from those of the nature-made variety to those representing the feats of man.

  • Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Justin Otto/Flickr Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Justin Otto/Flickr
  • Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: jphilipg/Flickr Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: jphilipg/Flickr
  • Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Mark Byzewski/Flickr Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Mark Byzewski/Flickr
  • Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Mark Byzewski/Flickr Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Mark Byzewski/Flickr
  • Pipe Shrine House and Far View House, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Catherine Snodgrass (Caitlyn Willows)/Flickr Pipe Shrine House and Far View House, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Catherine Snodgrass (Caitlyn Willows)/Flickr
  • Overlook of Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Jeffrey Keeton (Mulsanne)/Flickr Overlook of Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Credit: Jeffrey Keeton (Mulsanne)/Flickr