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Welcome to National Parks

National Parks

National parks in the state of California encompass a wide range of ecosystems, from the spectacular desert scenery and vegetation of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, and Lassen Volcanic National Park's active volcanic landscape, to the marine life and kelp forests of the island chain lying off the south coast that make up the Channel Islands National Park. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks feature impressive deep canyons and geological formations, while the glacial valley at Yosemite contains mighty granite monoliths, cliffs and waterfalls.

Information & Facts

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

The name itself suggests images of all that is harsh, inhospitable and hellish, and it is not by chance that many of the park's features have names like Coffin Peak, the Funeral Mountains, Dante's View, the Devil's Golf Course and Furnace Creek. These are the topographical features of a waterless desert landscape that is as hot as Hades. Average summer temperatures are 112°F (44°C); eggs can be fried on the baking ground and the second hottest temperature in the world was recorded here at 134°F (57°C) - in the shade. Yet despite this hostile wilderness, it is a heavily visited tourist destination with spectacular desert scenery, interesting desert wildlife, remarkable geological formations and sites of historical interest.

There are miles of rippled sand dunes, the sheer black walls with ancient petroglyphs of Marble Canyon and incredible views from Zabriskie Point and Dante's View. Amazing kaleidoscopes can be found at Artist's Palette where the intensely coloured hillside has been eroded into a tableau of red, gold, black and green, and the mineral-rich waters of the saline Badwater Lake that evaporate into sharp crystal formations. At the Devil's Golf Course, the saltpan on the valley floor is littered with lumps of crystallised salt. In the centre the pan drops to almost 300ft (91m) below sea level, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. Hoards of people wait to tour the Spanish-Moorish luxury of Scotty's Castle, a bizarre mansion with indoor waterfalls and a remote-controlled piano player that was built by 'Death Valley Scotty' in the 1920's for Albert Johnson, a Chicago insurance tycoon.

Although winter is the peak season, many tourists are beginning to tour Death Valley from the comfort of air-conditioned cars, visiting sites at sunrise or sunset, booking into comfortable hotel accommodation and cooling off in the pool at Stovepipe Wells Village.

Located in south-eastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is instantly recognisable for its vast desert expanses, spectacular sunsets, and peculiar Dr Seuss-like trees. The vistas are at times like something from another planet, and visitors can spot bighorn sheep, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnake and a variety of birds in the brush. Barker Dam, near Hidden Valley, is a great place to spot wildlife. Joshua Tree encompasses parts of both the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, and has nine designated campgrounds. There are good hiking trails and nature walks, and visitors can also view the park by horseback and 4x4.

One of the country's premier national parks, Yosemite receives millions of visitors each year with more than four million people visiting the Yosemite Valley alone. It is home to the biggest piece of exposed granite in the world, some of the highest waterfalls, and giant redwoods that are among the tallest and oldest trees on earth. The Yosemite Valley was formed by glacial action that carved away the softer rock creating the almost-vertical 3,000ft (914m) granite cliffs that line the seven-mile (11km) long valley floor. The towering cliffs are streaked with waterfalls and the valley floor is covered in meadows, rivers and forests that are the habitat of black bears, deer and coyotes. It is one of the world's most dramatic geological sights with granite monoliths like the 3,600ft (1,097m) piece known as El Capitan, and the sheerest cliff in North America, the Half Dome. Climbers on the granite faces are almost invisible to the naked eye and at night pinpricks of light halfway up indicate where they have tied themselves in for the night, ready for the next day's climbing. The most spectacular views of the valley are from Glacier Point, the top of a sheer cliff perched high above the valley, with magnificent vistas of Half Dome and the mountains of the High Sierra in the distance. There are numerous trails in the valley and many lead to several of the incredible waterfalls that are at their most dramatic after the spring snowmelt, including the 2,425ft (739m) Yosemite Falls and the Vernal Falls that drenches hikers in rainbow-coloured spray. A loop trail takes walkers to the hundreds of towering redwoods in Mariposa Grove, one over 2,700 years old. Although the park is big enough to absorb the crowds, 95 percent of the tourist activity is concentrated within the valley, and outdoor enthusiasts need only walk a little further along the trails to find all the solitude and wilderness they desire. Above the valley are the large open fields of Tuolumne Meadows that offer fantastic scenery, uncrowded camping and a haven for hikers with hundreds of miles of trails. Yosemite Village is the largest developed region in the Yosemite Valley and holds the main visitor's centre, restaurants and shops as well as nearby hotel accommodation.

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