Rock stands silgouetted against the reflected colors
of the dawn sky
government shutdown earlier this year brought with it many
hardships for millions of Americans who depended on those
missing pay checks to feed and clothe their families. On a
less drastic note, it also brought — among a laundry
list of other things — the closure of the country’s
a not-open-for-business sign on majestic Yosemite and
Yellowstone; on the exotic Everglades and the stark Death
Valley; on the spectacular Grand Canyon and Mammoth Cave.
assuredly, these closures didn’t impact the public like
the loss of wages, they represented a significant loss to
the nation’s psyche.
started me thinking of what would happen if such a
catastrophe occurred again, and while I fervently hope it
doesn’t, there is a travel alternative.
States has (as of a recent survey) 8,565 state parks,
ranging in diversity from New York’s Niagara Falls State
Park, the nation's oldest, to Little Jerusalem Badlands
State Park in Kansas, the newest (opening later this
year). Many of these gems are often overlooked in favor of
their national counterparts, and that is a shame.
Following is a roundup of five of my favorite state parks.
Falls, Big Island, Hawaii
back on a visit to Hawaii’s Big Island, I took a guided
hike to Akaka Falls, a state park on the northeastern
coast, equally known for its dramatic scenery and for a
strange natural phenomenon.
near the city of Hilo, it is one of the wettest places on
earth, with an average rainfall of 200 inches annually. As
I carefully maneuvered my way down a loop trail through
the rainforest to arrive at Akaka Falls — plunging 442
feet into a tranquil pool — I marveled at hibiscus the
size of dinner plates and orchids in rainbow hues.
beauty at its most extravagant, but perhaps the thing that
makes the Falls unique is something I didn’t see — the
tiny goby fish which live in the Pacific Ocean, but come
here to spawn in the stream above the Falls.
wash back out to the Pacific when they hatch and mature,
goby fish must make the journey from ocean to the top of
the falls every time they procreate. This makes Akaka
Falls the only state park to feature rock-climbing fish.
Central Coast, California
rocks, from the charming community of Morro Bay rises an
unlikely slab of rock that has become a symbol of this
part of the California coast.
of lava from an underwater volcano reaching the surface,
it is just one in a chain of volcanic peaks that runs
along the Central Coast.
island, Morro Rock is today connected to the mainland by a
thread of sand, allowing visitors an up-close view of the
marine preserve and its native wildlife. Otters and sea
lions bask on the jetty; pumpkin orange sea stars are
visible in the clear water and cormorants and gulls circle
above the rock.
latter’s squealing every morning served as my wake-up
call. Enjoy the birds’ raucous cries but take note: the
fragile habitat makes climbing the rock illegal, so
don’t try it.
Robinson State Park, Harrison, Neb.
military camp, which was in operation from 1873 until the
end of World War II, was established to protect the Red
Cloud Indian Agency and to oversee the Sioux Reservation.
Its distinguished past has included many famous names.
Walter Reed was once the post surgeon; Arthur MacArthur
(father of Gen. Douglas) served here, and Buffalo Bill
Cody frequented the fort during his time as an Army scout.
there’s one name indelibly linked with Fort Robinson,
it’s that of Crazy Horse, the Lakota Sioux warrior who
waged relentless battle against the white soldiers. Upon
his eventual surrender, he was brought here and imprisoned
in a guardhouse. On Sept. 5, 1877, he was killed by a
bayonet thrust from a sentry tasked with guarding him.
of that guardhouse can be seen on a tour of the
22,000-acre fort/state park. Better yet, visitors can
spend the night in the former quarters of enlisted men and
officers, making it a great base for exploring area
attractions, including the Crazy Horse Memorial, about an
hour’s drive across the state line in South Dakota’s
State Park, Karnack, Texas
think Texas is all wide-open spaces and desert haven’t
been to Caddo Lake State Park near the Louisiana state
line. With its 25,400-acre mosaic of swamps, ponds and
bayous, Caddo Lake has a lush landscape that equals
anything Louisiana has to offer.
Spanish moss hang limply from cypress trees; frogs croak
from their lily pad perches, and lazy alligators float
through backwater channels.
factoid: The lake was home to a “Pearl Rush” in the
early part of the 20th century when local fishermen
discovered freshwater pearls in the lake’s mussels. For
three years, scavengers flocked to the shallow waters
where they sifted through the mussel beds in hopes of
finding a fortune.
building of a nearby dam caused the water levels to rise,
thus ending the foraging, but the mussel beds still lie
below the murky waters, undisturbed by the boats that
transport today’s visitors. It just might be this
primeval landscape and not the hidden pearls that is the
Falls State Resort Park, Corbin, Ky.
only two places on earth where a rare phenomenon — the
moonbow, occurring regularly during cycles of the full
moon — can be found: at Victoria Falls in Africa or here
in southeastern Kentucky.
width of 125 feet and a drop of 68 feet, Cumberland Falls
might be a mini-Victoria — which spans the borders of
two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe — but try telling
that to the throngs of visitors who line the upper and
lower observation decks for a look at the lacy plumes of
water spilling into the boulder-studded river below.
mist surrounds the falls, and this, in part, is what
causes the moonbow. The scientific explanation: the light
of the full moon is reflected and refracted in the
delicate droplets of the mist, causing the arc to appear a
ghostly white rather than multihued. OK, but it’s poetry
and not science that most think of upon first seeing the
resort park, located in the middle of the Daniel Boone
National Forest, has plenty of other attractions,
including some of the best hiking trails in the state.
national parks are treasures, but travelers shouldn't
overlook those other lesser-known ones that await them in
their own backyards.