California is home to nine national parks and hundreds of national monuments, seashores, trails, historic sites and preserves. Ranging in size from 3.3-million-acre Death Valley National Park to smaller spots such as the 13-acre Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, these properties are overseen by the National Park Service. Some, like Yosemite National Park, are famous around the world, but many others are overlooked jewels.
We’ve excerpted 10 lesser-known properties from the new book, “Travel Features and Photos: California’s National Parks, Monuments, Trails, Seashores and Historic Sites,” published by San Francisco’s Bay Area Travel Writers, the largest regional organization of professional travel writers, photographers and broadcasters in the nation. It celebrates the Golden State’s properties as the National Park Service gears up for its 100th anniversary in 2016. The book is available as a free PDF download on the BATW website, bit.ly/nps-batw1 .
Channel Islands National Park: Camping in California’s Own Galapagos
While the great majority of visitors to the islands off the coast near Ventura are day-trippers who hop on the last boat back to the mainland as the sun sets, the Channel Islands offer a different experience at night, one you can only get by camping.
Shining your flashlight around camp at night on Santa Cruz Island, you might see a dozen or more pairs of glowing eyes. They belong to the native island fox, an adorable little critter that was nearly driven to extinction but that now rules the night, a night in which you snooze in your tent while the little foxes pad around trying to figure out if you were careless and left a snack within reach.
Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge: Watching Eagles at Play
Each winter, just as surely as frost laces the trees and ice begins to silence the wetlands, hundreds of bald eagles congregate in a “fly-in” at Northern California’s Klamath Basin. If you’re willing to rise before dawn and brave sub-freezing temperatures here, you’ll witness one of the most spectacular events a wildlife enthusiast will ever see.
Best of all was the eagles’ unforgettable courtship ritual: A pair climbs so high they are nearly invisible, circling one another with elaborate swoops and chases. Then the two birds lock talons and cartwheel head-over-tail, plummeting in a death-defying freefall until the very last moment before crashing to Earth, when they separate and glide off in apparent nonchalance.
Laurie McAndish King and Jim Shubin
Coso Rock Art National Historic Landmark: Petroglyph Stronghold in Kern County
It’s early morning on a sunny day with perfect blue skies and crisp high desert air as we walk into the Little Petroglyph Canyon. Our small group enters a narrow rock gallery. We are surrounded by images carved into the rocks depicting humans, animals, and who-knows-what figures from 10,000 years ago. Our guide tells us early artists used a hammerstone to peck at the black-brown patina, revealing the lighter-colored basalt underneath.
Little Petroglyph Canyon is one of several sites in the volcanic bluffs above the Pleistocene bed of China Lake. The Maturango Museum organizes the only tours to this amazing area, containing the largest collection of rock art in North America, with more than 14,000 carvings in the major canyons alone. The remoteness of the site, as well as the carefully controlled, guided visits, contributes to the pristine condition of the art.