By Roberta Kravette
This week we celebrate the best of summer - lazy warm days, good friends and family, burgers and hot dogs on the grill, (non-meat of course 😄 ), all topped off by booming, sparkling fireworks. But a Fourth of July party is more than that.
The Fourth of July is really a celebration of us, the United States, the only nation on earth By the People, For the People. We celebrate a nation of mind-bending diversity, both of its people and its incomparable space.
A Land of Incomparable Diversity
The number of different wildlife (432 mammals) and birds (800) species found in the United States are themselves staggering. Then there are our people numbering more than 320 million individuals who speak over 350 languages Together, people, birds, wildlife and staggering number of plant and other species, live spread out over a land comprised of 7 different biomes: Tundra, taiga, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, grasslands, desert and alpine.
And we the people have over the years been smart and savvy enough to preserve amazing examples of some of those biomes, our natural heritage, for our own enjoyment. As documentarian Ken Burns so aptly opined, the National Parks may be, “America’s best idea.”
Today, let’s celebrate 4 of the marvelous preserved places in these United States that we have visited in these pages over the years. This is Four for the 4th! (plus one bonus.)
Declared a National Wildlife Refuge 1976, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, named after the area’s most famous artist, is 915,814 acres (370,617 hectares) set atop a glacial plain.
Its forest, rivers, and grasslands are home to a fantastic abundance of wildlife, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, grizzly bear, cougar, and mule deer. It is a refuge for many threatened and endangered species like the grey wolf, black-footed ferret, black-tailed prairie dog, and northern leopard frog. Birds like the burrowing owl, mountain plover, and 235 other avian species find safe haven here.
But it is the bugling elk at Slippery Ann that first brought this place to our attention. Read: Slippery Ann’s Amazing Bugling Elk.
The El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico
El Yunque was declared a National Forest in 1906. The only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest system. Puerto Rico’s El Yunque is only 29,000 acres (11,736 hectares) – one of the United States’ smallest national forests – yet one of its most biodiverse.
El Yunque National Forest’s hundreds of wildlife species are small in size, too, but many exist in no other place on earth. Look for 13 species of tiny tree frogs, coqui´, and over 50 bird species, including the elusive, critically endangered Puerto Rican parrot.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Declared a National Park in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone National Park has the distinction not only of being the United States’ first national (not state) park but the first national park on the planet. It was dedicated as a national park partly in response to what was a disappointing effort at California’s protection of Yosemite. (Yosemite was re-dedicated as a national park in 1890). The park’s area is calculated in square miles, more than 3,468 of them (8.983km). It has one of the highest elevation lakes in North America (Yellowstone Lake) as well as forests and grasslands, geysers, and springs, and (for now) a quiet volcano.
Yellowstone National Park is home to 200 animal species, including 60 mammals, the most famous, of course, being the re-introduced grey wolf and the iconic bison, but also pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, elk, moose, and grizzly bear. Over 300 bird species can be found here, 16 fish species, six different reptiles, and four amphibians. World famous Yellowstone is genuinely one of the United States’ crown jewels.
(Bonus) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Only 10 miles from Yellowstone, Grand Tetons National Park was dedicated in 1929 and expanded in 1950 to include the Jackson Hole Monument and other lands purchased explicitly by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. for the purpose of land preservation.
The Grand Tetons is 310,000 acres (480 square miles / 130,000 hectares) only 10 miles from Yellowstone and bordered by additional preserved wilderness and forest. The majestic Teton Range is the Rocky Mountain’s youngest range, rising without foothills directly from the Jackson Hole valley.
Sixty-one mammal species have been recorded in the Grand Tetons National Park, including icons like grey wolves, grizzly and black bear, and bison as well as coyote, river otters, martens, and wolverines. Cougars are occasionally seen here, and so too, the fastest land animal in North America, the pronghorn antelope.
Read: My 7 Days Photographing the Most Magnificent Parks in America by Jim Fennessy and My Search for the Best places to Photograph Grizzly Bears By Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven
Big Cyprus National Preserve, Florida
How to Get Great Wildlife Photographs in the Forest By Robert Wallace
Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Caroline and Tennessee
How to Take Your Wife to See the Beach, Bears and Wild Horse. By Joe Gliozzo Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and The Otter Banks of North Carolina
In a State Not So Far Far Away … Adventure of Florida’s Nature Coast Robert Wallace Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The Big Cyprus National Preserve was Established in 1974. The Big Cyprus National Preserve protects over 729,000 acres (295,000 hectares) of swamp habitat including a mix of both tropical and temperate plants. Its freshwater is essential to the health of Florida’s Everglades.
Where else on the earth might you see alligators and bobcats, manatee and black bear, not to mention the beautiful roseate spoonbill? Graceful herons nest among the mangroves; there are also ibis, pelicans, and 200 plus other species of waders, songbirds and raptors. River otters frolic in the fresh water. You may even be lucky and spot an elusive, endangered Florida panther. Read: The Amazing Wildlife of Everglades City and Kayaking with Alligators at Big Cyprus National Preserve both by me, Roberta Kravette
Have you had great experiences in National Parks or Wildlife Refuges? Lets us know below!