National Parks: the wild gems of California

Snow-capped crags of the Sierra Nevada. Blistering, scorched earth of Death Valley. Wilderness.

“To preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources for future generations. To provide opportunities to experience, understand and enjoy the park consistent with the preservation of resources in a state of nature. To celebrate the ongoing peace, friendship, and goodwill among nations, recognizing the need for cooperation in a world of shared resources.”

Such is the stated commission of the United States National Park Service. This nation-wide government organization oversees the rich, rugged beauty of the American landscape.

Yosemite High Country -Photo by Christopher Suess
March 1872 saw the creation of the majestic Yellowstone National Park, the first of its kind. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service, catalyzing the growth of federally protected wilderness areas.

Today, there are 58 National Parks in the U.S. Eight of these gems adorn California, giving Californians countless opportunities for exploration and relaxation in the heart of pristine wilderness.

Dave Quimby, a veteran project manager and architect employed by the Park Service, reserves particularly high remarks for Yosemite National Park.

“My first trip had me hooked,” says Quimby, adding that he particularly loved the stark contrasts between 100-degree summers, snowy winters and cool, breezy, bountiful spring.

Quimby offers tried and tested advice to students intrigued in visiting this crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada, located a tantalizing three and a half hours away.

“Go when it’s warm, drive through the high country and have a picnic at Tenaya Lake,” he says. “Then head up to Lee Vining Mobile gas station for their famous fish tacos. A fun hike is from the top of Glacier Point down the mountain, ending up at the Ahwahnee hotel for a cold Coca-Cola. Definitely hike to Vernal Falls by way of the John Muir trail as well.”

Carmel hosts its own National Park right in its backyard: Pinnacles National Park. Sculpted by ancient lava flows and situated directly on the San Andreas Fault, this Park showcases rare talus caves and towering rock spires teeming with life: prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles and the inspiring California condor.

This rock-climbing mecca, just an hour and a half away, remains within easy striking distance for CHS students and staff.

Mike Guardino, CHS science teacher by school year and Park Service volunteer by summer, points out the vast variety of choices offered by the diverse California Parks.

“If you want to see volcanoes, go to Lassen,” Guardino says. “If you want to go to the desert, Joshua Tree is wonderful. If you are looking for rugged backcountry, go to King’s Canyon and Sequoia. If you like coastal islands, Channel Islands is beautiful.”

Behind the beauty of each park runs a well-oiled machine of employees. R.J. Hart is a former park ranger with 16 years of experience under his belt. Hart explains the high level training that he and other rangers underwent before entering this selective service.

“As an interpreter, I had to learn the history of my park extremely well,” Hart remarks. “If a guest asked where the bricks came from to build Fort Point, I had to have an answer ready.”

Whether they are architects like Quimby designing bridges and arches, interpreters like Hart informing the public of rich history, or backcountry rangers like Guardino patrolling hundreds of miles of isolated wilderness, these are the operatives who keep the nation’s treasured gems in tip-top condition for millions of visitors’ enjoyment year after year.
-Connor Suess