The Natural Wonders of the Earth: North America
The Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) are located in the United States, along the coast of northern California, stretching for 37 miles along the pristine Pacific coastline and comprised of Redwood National Park, created 1968; California’s Del Norte Coast; the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks, dating from the 1920s; and the Jedediah Smith.
The Redwood National and State Park protects 157,000 acres of the majestic redwood trees and are located entirely within Del Norte and Humboldt Counties; these four parks, of about 133,000 acres (540 km2) protect 45% of all remaining Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) trees, being one of the most massive tree species on Earth, scattered on an area of at least 38,982 acres (157.75 km2).
The parks also preserve other indigenous flora, fauna, cultural resources, portions of rivers and other streams grassland prairie and 37 miles (60 km) of pristine coastline; the largest trees in the park can be found in Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park but you can also stroll through Fern Canyon to witness a never forgetful scene, where fallen trees crisscross the valley floor with a lush carpet of velvety moss and swaying ferns and when a thick mist hangs over the trees.
Niagara Falls may not be world’s largest waterfall but it is certainly the most popular one, located at 75 miles (120 km) south-southeast of Toronto and 17 miles (27 km) north-northwest of Buffalo, straddling the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York.
Niagara Falls is composed of two major sections separated by Goat Island: the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls are located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island, while on the Canadian side of the border is the Horseshoe Falls, comprising of almost two-thirds. More than 6 million cubic feet (168,000 m³) of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow making Niagara renowned not only for its beauty and by also for its valuable hydroelectric power, being the most powerful waterfall in North America. Climb aboard the Maid of the Mist where, from a cable car placed high above the swirling water, you can see the giant whirlpools created by the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls.
The world’s most famous geological wonder is the massive gorge of the Grand Canyon cutting through northern Arizona for 277 miles and largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the first national parks in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt made this site famous by visiting it on numerous occasions and acting as a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area; the crowds soon followed so in the early 20th century the El Tovar Hotel was constructed.
Some of the visitors dare only to gaze at this natural wonder but some take the lead and gorge along the Bright Angel Trail, by taking a mule ride, opt for a jeep tour or ride the rapids below in the Colorado River. Nearly two billion years of the Earth’s geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted, creating a natural structure of 18 miles (29 km) wide and depths of over a mile.
Zion National Park is an 229-square-mile (593 km2) oasis in the in the Southwestern United States, near Springdale, Utah, featuring towering sandstone rock formations that were named by the state’s Mormon settlers for their resemblance to temples of God, and the famous Zion Canyon, 15 miles (24 km) long and up to half a mile (800 m) deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River.
The highest elevation is 8,726 ft at Horse Ranch Mountain while the lowest is at Coalpits Wash; the park has a unique geography, standing at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, and this variety of life zones, desert, riparian, woodland and coniferous forest, allowed the diversity of unusual animal and plant species. Zion National Park includes mountains, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, canyons, buttes, mesas, and natural arches; and over species of birds, 32 species of reptiles and 75 mammals. Daredevils and brave hikers traverse the 2.5-mile trail up to Angel’s Landing through steep ridges and narrow rocky paths, rewarding their efforts with stellar views of the canyon below.
The Canadian Rockies comprise the Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains range, extending from the Interior Plains of Alberta to the Rocky Mountain Trench of British Columbia and being the eastern part of the Canadian Cordillera; the end is at the Liard River in northern British Columbia while the southern end borders Idaho and Montana of the USA. The Rocky Mountains roll on for a thousand miles with snow-capped peaks, such as the Mount Columbia (3,747 metres (12,293 ft)) or the Mount Robson (3,954 metres (12,972 ft)), thick forests and clear glacial lakes, the rockies being composed of shale and limestone.
Banff was established in 1885 as the first of the Rockies’ National Parks, and the entire park area is protected as a World Heritage Site. For a scenic pathway through the mountains and gorges, drive along the Ice Field Highway from Banff to Jasper National park; you can also relax near the glittering blue-green waters of Lake Louise or the sparkling body of water known as Peyto Lake and surrounded by lush fir trees.
The Columbia Icefield is an icefield located in the Canadian Rockies, astride the Continental Divide of North America, covering an area of about 325 km² in area and standing partly in the northwestern tip of Banff and the southern end of Jasper National Park, with depth of 100 to 365 meters (328 to 1,197 ft). Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park is the largest area of ice in the Rockies and has eight major glaciers: Athabasca Glacier, Dome Glacier, Castleguard Glacier, Saskatchewan Glacier, Columbia Glacier and Stutfield Glacier.
Visitors can road-trip along the Highway 93 or the 143-mile-long Ice Field Parkway, and stop to admire the towering mountains and the Athabasca Falls, with its deep gorge, or continue their trip to Athabasca Glacier, which can be explored in a specially designed vehicle with super-sized wheels perfect for traversing the icy terrain or on foot.
Yosemite National Park is a United States National Park spanning eastern portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties in east central California, reaching across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain and covering an area of 761,268 acres (3,080.74 km2) filled with sprawling flower-filled meadows, stands of redwoods and pine trees, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, dramatic granite cliffs that reach nearly 9,000 feet into the sky, waterfalls and biological diversity.
Interesting spots are the El Capitan, preferred by many skilled rock climbers who take between 4 and 8 days to ascend to the top of the sheer rock face; or the rounded Half Dome is made of granite that is believed to be 87 million years old. Yosemite is one of the largest and least fragmented habitat blocks in the Sierra Nevada containing five major vegetation zones: chaparral/oak woodland, lower montane, upper montane, subalpine and alpine. If you are in this area you can check into the Ahwahnee Lodge, a hotel that was built in the 1920’s with timber and granite from the area.
Glacier Bay is a bay in south-eastern Alaska, United States, which runs north northwest to south south-east for about 105 km (65 miles) between two pinchets of Alaska, with the Galcier Bay and the surrounding land being the site of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. This area ranges from 5 km to 30 km (3 miles to 20 miles) wide and when the glacier retreated in the past 250 years, it gave away tall mountains, dense forests, a vibrant marine landscape and beautiful glaciers, today being a popular cruise ship destination. Captain George Vancouver discovered the Icy Strait in 1789 but the bay was then choked with ice. Mendenhall Glacier is a great spot for adventurers who set out in kayaks and helicopters to explore this region with an amazing display of wildlife including humpback whales, sea lions and sea otters.
Arches National Park is a U.S. National Park located just outside of Moab, eastern Utah, and famous for preserving a variety of unique geological resources and formations, including over 2000 natural sandstone arches such as the world-famous Delicate Arch, the sweeping Landscape Arch, the Double Arch, or the precarious Balanced Rock.
Its highest elevation is 5,653 feet (1,723 m) at Elephant Butte and stretches on an area of 119 square miles (310 km2) in size, with the lowest elevation being at the visitor center. The park receives 10 inches (250 mm) of rain a year on average and the curved natural sandstone arches in the midst of Utah’s desert land defy gravity with twisted spires, fins and precariously balanced rocks atop the stone arches that soar up to 100 feet in the air; a site definitely worth seeing.
Monument Valley is a region of the Colorado Plateau characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, some reaching 1,000 ft (300 m) above the valley floor, being located on the southern border of Utah with northern Arizona, near the Four Corners area and standing within the range of the Navajo Nation Reservation, accessible from the Route 163. This landscape became the iconic setting for many classic American western movies and visitors can cruise the open road along nearby or navigate the rugged terrain on horseback or ATVs.
The valley also includes the famous large stone structure known as the Eye of the Sun; all the buttes are formed by a lower layer of Organ Rock shale, a middle layer of de Chelly sandstone, while the top layer is Moenkopi shale capped by Shinarump siltstone, and the valley’s vivid red color comes from iron oxide exposed in the weathered siltstone.
Maui is the United States’ 17th largest island and the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands at 727.2 square miles (1883.5 km2), being made up of two volcanoes: Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, which last erupted in the early 16th century, and the West Maui Mountains. Maui is part of the state of Hawaii and is the largest of Maui County’s four islands, bigger than Lāna’i, Kaho’olawe, and Moloka’i; visitors often go along the area’s famed Road to Hana or explore the deep crater’s surroundings, lush with thick tropical plants that meet the sea and its vibrant coral reefs, great surfing spots, rich forests and barren desert land.
Yellowstone is a national park located in the U.S. state of Wyoming, though it also extends into Montana and Idaho, being the world’s first National Park and established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Visitors were soon reported so the Old Faithful Inn was quickly built; the park is known for its wildlife, home to free-roaming bison, grizzly bears, moose and elk, its many types of ecosystems and the dominant subalpine forest, and its many geothermal features with over 300 geysers, including the famous Old Faithful Geyser.
Bryce Canyon National Park is relatively small, covering an area of 56 square miles (145 km2), being located in southwestern Utah in the United States. The park’s unusual pointy rock formations create a whimsical landscape and the famous structure is the Bryce Canyon a giant natural amphitheater, not a canyon, created by erosion along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, providing brilliant colors ranging from rich red to bright orange. The area around Bryce Canyon became a U.S. National Monument in 1923 due to its spectacular slot canyons and amphitheatres or the craggy limestone spires, known as hoodoos, which line the hillsides.11