TUCSON, AZ – Ever wonder where people who work in national parks go when they take a vacation? Today, the 700-member Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) released a list of 10 of the best foreign national parks, spanning the globe from Australia, Africa, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
CNPSR member Don Goldman, former park planner in the old southwest region of the US National Park Service, said: “Several years ago, in anticipation of family winter vacation time, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees rounded up its members’ recollections of the most memorable US national park areas they had worked in or visited. When the nominations came in, the selection process was like picking from among the loveliest flowers in the field. As we had to acknowledge, it was a highly subjective selection process. But our intention was to encourage Americans to visit their national parks; not just our favorites, but whichever ones they could get to. This year, the Coalition’s 700 members have suggestions for your vacation trips abroad. We who have spent our lives working in and with national parks not only visit our own, but make an effort to see other countries’ national parks, too.”
CNPSR member Rick Smith, former superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns said: “Most Americans know that Yellowstone was our first national park, but it was also the world’s first national park. The idea of a national park was new with Yellowstone, but it was soon adopted by many countries, one of the best ideas our country gave the world. Just as we did, those countries have expanded the original concept to a great variety of parks and reserves. Today, marvelous parks are to be found all over the world.”
Coalition members usually can’t stay away from such places on foreign vacations. Smith explained, “We plan many of our overseas trips around the national parks or protected areas we can visit in other countries.” Some NPS retirees even had the opportunity, when on temporary training or work assignments with foreign countries or as Peace Corps volunteers, to work in and contribute to those countries’ national parks.
The following 10 foreign national parks are among the outstanding places CNPSR members recommended. Where it was necessary to break ties, the park chosen in the end was included to provide for maximum geographic diversity:
1. TONGARIRO N. P., New Zealand
This is one of the North Island’s three World Heritage Sites. It features volcanic peaks (one of which is active) and is still home to many Maoris, who donated the park to New Zealand in 1887, when it became the world’s fourth national park. The Maoris are very outgoing in displaying their culture to visitors.
2. KAKADU N. P., Northern Territory, Australia
This World Heritage Site is jointly managed by the Aborigines and the Australian government. It has magnificent vistas, great waterfalls, stunning displays of Aboriginal rock art, and is habitat to an awesome predator, the estuarine (saltwater) crocodile.
3. SNOWDONIA N. P., Wales, Great Britain
Snowdonia is a lovely mountain park, with Mount Snowdon, which is comprised of slate, rising to 3,560 feet. While this park is not geologically or scenically spectacular compared with many mountain parks, it is spectacular in its own right, due in part to its peaceful nature.
4. KRUGER N. P., South Africa
This is perhaps the most impressive wildlife viewing area in the world. Millions of acres of habitat and little development give visitors an opportunity to see many large African mammals and magnificent birds. It is one of the few places where wildlife is in charge – they wander free and the visitors are controlled.
5. TIKAL N. P., Guatemala
This World Heritage Site contains the spectacular ruins of a Maya settlement from around 250-900 AD. The towering ruins of temples, one 70 meters tall, rising from the jungle that surrounds them, are mute testimony to the architectural genius of the Maya. As many as 90,000 people lived in Tikal at its zenith, but strife with neighboring towns and environmental stress caused its abandonment beginning in the 10th century. Of course, the Maya never left; they are there today, and a thrill of a visit is to see it with a Maya guide.
6. IGUAZU N. P., Argentina
This park protects one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls and the surrounding subtropical forest. The falls are 70 meters high, but even more impressive is their width: the river at the falls is 1,500 meters wide. A thrilling experience is the short boat ride and walk along the catwalks to the most striking of the hundreds of falls, Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat. The roar itself is an unforgettable experience.
7. SAGARMANTHA N. P., Nepal
The park includes Mount Everest, among other prominent mountains. It has distinctive wildlife and small picturesque Sherpa villages with their gumpas (monasteries).
8. MADAIN SALEY NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK, Saudi Arabia
This region, the Biblical Midian, is mostly undulating desert, interspersed with huge rocky outcrops and lush oases. Here, between 500 BC and 100 AD, the Nabatean people created 125 monumental cut-rock tombs and facades, edifices up to 130 feet tall, that are standing today in a remarkable state of preservation.
9. PLITVICE LAKES N. P., Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in inland Croatia, about halfway between Zagreb and Split. In moderately mountainous terrain, the park features water – small lakes and streams and beautiful waterfalls everywhere. Because of the geology of the area, travertine is evident in most of the water features, giving them distinctive blue-green colors and exceptionally clear water. There are a number of excellent short and moderate hiking trails with quiet, non-polluting electric ferries connecting some of the trails by way of the lakes. Because of the vegetation, fall “color season” is especially spectacular.
10. HORTOBAGY N. P., Hungary
This park is located on the “puszta,” or great Hungarian plains. It was the country’s first national park. It also is a biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site. The plains and wetlands reflect two millennia of human occupation and have supported agrarian life for centuries. It has several endangered bird species and is a refuge for the Przewalski horse and migratory waterfowl. Culturally, it preserves and interprets traditional Hungarian folkways, such as the nomadic herding culture of the puszta.
The full list is available online at http://www.npsretirees.org/pressroom/2009/10-favorite-foreign-naitonal-parks-h ighlighted-u-s-national-park-service-retirees.