The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial anniversary this summer, and NBC’s TODAY commemorated this milestone with “100 Years of National Parks TODAY.” From May 9-12, the show’s anchors brought eight of the most beautiful, fascinating national parks to viewers at home.
Biscayne National Park & Dry Tortugas National Park
On Monday, Natalie Morales and Jenna Bush Hager reported live from Florida, showcasing some of the state’s unique parks. Biscayne National Park covers more than 250 square miles, but most of it is hidden underwater. “We are the largest marine park in the national park system, 95 percent of our 173,000 acres is covered by water,” said Park Ranger Gary Bremen. “It’s a place of mangroves and bay and islands and reefs and human history.”
Their next stop was Dry Tortugas National Park, just off the coast of Key West. “Originally named Las Tortugas, the area is famous for sea turtles,” said Morales. “It’s also a great spot for bird watching, with more than 200 species of birds. And with over 30 types of coral reefs, the surrounding waters are a snorkeling paradise.” When asked how important it is to protect these national treasures, Park Ranger Michael Wydish said, “I can’t think of anything that’s more important here in the United States…There’s very few pristine places like this left, and I like to call this place the ‘crown jewel’ of the National Park Service.”
Learn more about Biscayne here and Dry Tortugas here via the National Park Service.
The TODAY explorers then took to the Everglades, which was established as a national park in 1947 to protect the wildlife habitat. “The Everglades National Park spans across 1.5 million acres, and is home to hundreds of species of plants – more than 60 of which are endangered,” explained Morales. “Visitors can enjoy activities like hiking, canoeing, biking, camping, tram and boat tours.” Fun fact: The Everglades is the only place on the planet where crocodiles and alligators coexist due to the presence of both freshwater and saltwater!
Learn more about visiting Everglades National Park here.
White Sands National Monument
The TODAY Show broadcast live from White Sands National Monument on Tuesday, where Matt Lauer and Al Roker explored “one of the most unusual and stunning places on Earth.” Located about an hour and a half away from El Paso, TX, this national park first appears as an optical illusion – what looks like snow in the middle of the New Mexico desert is actual 285,000 square miles of cool, white sand.
“An ocean of rippling white waves; a naturally blank canvas, reflecting a range of dazzling colors,” described Lauer. “White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Gypsum particles, the same material used in plaster and drywall, sparkle like diamonds here.” Since the shifting sand dunes are constantly in motion, red desert markers help guide the half a million visitors that flock to White Sands National monument every year.
Discover more about White Sands here.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
With 118 caves below the desert surface and 180 miles of known passageways, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park is still being explored and discovered. Roker took TODAY viewers inside the home of the largest cave chamber in the country, where “moisture, minerals, and time have turned droplets of water into works of art.” Half a million tourists visit the impressive cave formations annually, exploring Carlsbad Caverns’ stalagmites, stalactites and helictites formed by nature over hundreds of thousands of years.
Learn more about the place Roker described as “a cave worth the climb, a park worth the trip.”
On Thursday, Roker traveled to the infamous Alcatraz Island, where some of the country’s most notorious criminals were once locked away from 1934-1963. Since opening in 1973 as a national park, Alcatraz has attracted more than a million tourists each year, who visit to learn about the island’s mysterious history and its bird sanctuary, now home to more than 10,000 seabirds.
Find out how you can explore the mysteries of Alcatraz Island here.
Sequoia National Park
Roker and his daughter Leila took in the wonder of Sequoia National Park, which is called “The Land of the Giants” because of its towering sequoia trees. The park is home to General Sherman, the largest tree in the world – and still growing at 2,000 years old.
Plan your visit beneath the trees of Sequoia National Park here.
Acadia National Park
For the final stop of the “100 Years of National Parks TODAY” series, Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones visited Acadia National Park, spanning nearly 50,000 acres of breathtaking natural beauty. “This is the first spot in the country where the sun hits the horizon,” said Dreyer. “At over 1,500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard, boasting sunrises worth getting up for.”
Experience the wonder of Acadia National Park here.