Wander through all U.S. National Parks with National Geographic photographs

To view all 59 National Geographic park photos, click here.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

A National Park ranger in Virginia once said that the reason an area is designated a national park is that it can’t be used for anything else.

That quote came eons ago when my family was summer-camped in a Virginia national park, and he smiled when he said it. But there might be some truth to it.

Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado

What else could we do with the Grand Canyon? Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone or Dry Tortugas? Granted, some could be mined or commercialized for private use by tour groups or companies. Recent developments in Bears Ears and Escalante National Monuments, where some of the land has been privatized, shows that could happen.

There is a difference between national parks and national monuments. 

A National Geographic photographer, Jonathan Irish, visited all 59 national parks and released his photos. He is a professional outdoor and adventure photographer represented by National Geographic Creative. He was formerly the senior director of adventures for National Geographic Expeditions.

Glacier Bay NP, Alaska

Bears Ears was recently reduced in size by 85 percent by the president, despite ancestral ties to Native Americans.  Since 2000, numerous dinosaur fossils over 75 million years old have been found at Grand Staircase-Escalante. Escalante was reduced by nearly 50 percent.

But thanks to Jonathan Irish, we can gaze at all 59 parks. All are wonderful photos (who am I to criticize a Nat Geo photographer?), but some of the 59 don’t show the majesty or the size of the park. All illustrate a portion of the park that shows the essence of the area, whether it’s vegetation, geology or structures.

He shows all the favorites, but also the parks that go largely unnoticed, like the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, Ohio, or Congaree National Park in South Carolina. Cuyahoga Valley NP was founded in 2000, Congaree three years later. Both are about half the size of York County.

Cuyahoga Valley NP, Ohio

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River’s oil slicks caught fire as it entered Lake Erie and destroyed a bridge and damaged a railroad trestle. It was the 13th river fire since 1868. That disaster led to massive environmental changes and today, the river is the park’s major focus. The photo Irish chose to represent the park is a covered bridge. Most of the park is wooded, rural. Nearly all the pollution that caused the fires was far north in Cleveland.

Congaree is often talked about as a swamp, when in fact, it’s a bottomland of a floodplain.  Hiking is a big activity here, but canoeing and kayaking are also available. Irish’ photo is a wet boardwalk through a wet forest. “This dynamic environment is subject to periodic flooding which occurs approximately ten times each year.” From the website.

Congaree NP, South Carolina

I’ve always wanted to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park. Located at the end of the Florida Keys, about 70 miles west of Key West, the Tortugas (tortoise in Spanish) is expensive to reach and there are few amenities there.

Only 52,000 visitors made the trip in 2009, shelling out $578 for a seaplane arrival or $165 by ferry. That it is the third least-visited national park in the lower 48 states (only Isle Royale National Park and North Cascades National Park are quieter), and that alone might make the islands a great spot for your next trip. Keep in mind there is no place here to get water or dinner. Still, about 3,000 people camp in a typical year.

Dry Tortugas NP, Florida

Fort Jefferson is the main historical reason to visit here. Sixteen million bricks were used to build the mid-1800s fort which was never completed, but its greatest claim to fame is it’s most famous prisoner, Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd. Mudd was convicted of being part of the Lincoln assassination and held here until he was pardoned in 1869.

If you’re not into history, scuba diving and snorkeling are popular here. After all, only  39 acres of the 64,701-acre park is above water.

Wander through the photos. Some will catch your eye because of how you remember it, the beauty of the place or who you were with. Other photos stand alone as a reminder of places you’ve not seen, but will.