Category Archives: List

Top 10 National Park License Plates

We recently returned from an amazing trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and National Park of American Samoa (our 62nd of 63 National Parks).  While in Hawai‘i, we noticed two cool license plates on cars celebrating the state’s two parks, which you can even purchase in keychain form.  This made us reflect on all of the interesting plates we have seen that commemorate National Park Service sites across the country.  We also added photos to our previous posts on the Big Island’s Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic SiteClick here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. National Parks of Washington

The standard license plate for Washington state depicts Mount Rainier, but this new one seemingly covers North Cascades and Olympic National Parks as well

9. Yellowstone National Park (Montana)

The first ever National Park is mostly located in Wyoming, but only Montana offers a special plate

8. Glacier National Park (Montana)

Another of the approximately 200 different license plates available in Montana, which is by far the most of any state

7. Yosemite National Park (California)

We always found the image on this specialty plate a little too washed out to see while driving down the road when we lived in California (but more interesting than the state’s white plate)

6. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

The image on this plate is tucked into the corner, sort of like Big Bend in Texas itself

5. Everglades National Park (Florida)

A roseate spoonbill adorns this plate commemorating the River of Grass

4. Haleakalā National Park (Hawai‘i)

This plate depicts the endangered Hawaiian goose (nēnē), which we have only seen at the landfill on Kauai

3. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

A beautiful license plate for a beautiful National Park

2. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Seeing lava is the best reason to visit this park, although it is harder to predict since Pu‘u Ō‘ō stopped flowing into the ocean in 2018

…and finally our #1 National Park License Plate:

1. Arches National Park (Utah)

This stunning plate has been standard issue for all Utah drivers for decades and depicts Delicate Arch while not specifically mentioning the National Park (there is a mostly white Zion plate, too)


Honorable Mentions

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Our home state changes its license plate background image every 10 years by law, so currently it shows Bridger National Forest, but who knows in 2027

Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

This was the beautiful license plate when we moved to Wyoming in 2012

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska)

This was the cool plate depicting the golden stairs in Dyea when Scott moved to Alaska for grad school

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina)

This park split evenly across two states is famous for its large population of black bears

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee)

The second license plate dedicated to the most visited of the 63 National Parks

Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina)

This distinctive plate has been available since we lived in North Carolina almost 20 years ago

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia)

We have never seen this neat plate on the road and discovered it while researching this Top 10 List

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

We have never seen this neat plate on the road and discovered it while researching this Top 10 List

San Juan National Historic Site (Puerto Rico)

The garitas on the walls of Old San Juan are an iconic symbol of Puerto Rico

National Park of American Samoa (American Samoa)

Flowerpot Rock is not actually in the park, but we liked this colorful plate the best during our recent trip

Top 10 Films at National Park Service Visitor Centers

This fall we have driven all over the country and stopped at a handful of National Park Service (NPS) sites that we had never visited.  We have been surprised at the quality of the introductory films shown at some of these lesser-known spots, so we decided to put together a list of our all-time favorites.  Not every NPS site has a film, nor have we watched every one available at the 385 units we have visited, so there is a good bet we have missed some excellent ones.  Please let us know if you have a recommendation, as quite a few of the films are now available for free through the NPS app or on YouTube.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists, including some lists of movies not made by the NPS.

10. Fort Davis National Historic Site (Texas)

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a cowboy hat is probably the best reason to watch this film about the “Buffalo Soldiers” (click to watch it on YouTube)

9. Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)

Reenactors in kilts holding swords make this seem more like Braveheart than the historically-accurate Revolutionary War scene that it is

8. Camp Nelson National Monument (Kentucky)

This recent addition to the NPS system has a great film about how a Civil War fort became a haven for runaway slaves

7. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Most of these films emphasize history, but this one focuses on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities in this forested wonderland

Scott with the 42′ x 377′ Cyclorama mural

6. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

The only movie on this list that charges an admission fee, it is well-produced and pairs well with viewing the Cyclorama painting

5. Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington-Montana)

The Nez Perce have a thriving nation as shown in this documentary that emphasizes the present more than the past (it plays at the visitor center in Spaulding, Idaho)

4. Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)

A short, modern film (on YouTube) that thoroughly and artfully explains the battle with long, uncut shots and realistic depictions of bullet wounds

3. Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho)

New film covers the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, not just the 13,000 imprisoned in central Idaho

2. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York)

The excellent documentary Close To Home (on YouTube) focuses primarily on the former First Lady’s inspirational career after her time in the White House

…and finally our #1 film at a National Park Service visitor center:

1. Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Multiple screens with props in the foreground make for an unforgettable telling of Paul Revere’s ride at the visitor center in Lexington


Honorable Mentions

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio)

This film is less than six minutes long, but it is very informative and available on YouTube

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

This film is very dated to the 1970s, so it is unintentionally funny while still being informative

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Interviews with the former President highlight this retelling of his childhood in the small town of Hope where he was born to a widowed mother under the name Billy Blythe III

Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

We did not watch the whole film, but this must be the most pleasant theater in the NPS system

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

There are actually two films shown at the visitor center in downtown Philadelphia, but only one stars a young Kristen Bell (from Veronica Mars and Disney’s Frozen)

Top 10 National Forests for Dispersed Camping 

We cannot think of a single National Forest without a designated campground, but what makes these public lands unique is that they allow free dispersed camping along most of their unpaved roadways.  The Forest Service requests that campers use a site with an established fire ring, pack out (do not burn) all trash, and stay a maximum of 14 days.  We have all seen people who abuse these lightly-enforced policies, but if we all are responsible then, hopefully, we will retain this camping privilege in the future.  Dispersed camping is typically not allowed near campgrounds or on private property, so watch for road signs and use the Visitor Map app.  Some areas of high usage have designated spots, like the free sites marked along Vedauwoo Road in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists, including our favorite National Forest campgrounds and backpacking areas.

10. Manistee (Michigan)

The Nordhouse Dunes are a popular destination for backpacking on Lake Michigan, but not far from the developed campgrounds are flat spots for dispersed camping

9. Cibola (New Mexico)

The Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque are a great place for dispersed camping, and there are also several campgrounds there

8. Apache (Arizona- New Mexico)

There are many dirt roads that spur from the paved Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) with good camping options

7. Tongass (Alaska)

Scott did his M.S. research in Tongass National Forest and camped all over the islands, which literally have thousands of miles of gravel logging roads to explore

6. Payette (Idaho)

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is managed by Oregon’s Wallowa National Forest, but we camped before our whitewater rafting trip at an overlook on the well-maintained Kleinschmidt Grade; plus we stayed at a great site on the shores of Brundage Reservoir (see photo at top)

5. Black Hills (South Dakota-Wyoming)

There are at least half-a-dozen places we have dispersed camped in this area with fast access to Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Custer State Park, and Devils Tower National Monument

4. La Sal (Utah-Colorado)

We passed some awesome sites along the 58-mile-long Elk Ridge Scenic Backway and just off the paved La Sal Mountain Loop Road

3. Chequamegon (Wisconsin)

The Moquah Barrens is a cool place to camp, and there are some campsites on the back roads of the Bayfield Peninsula close to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

2. Sequoia (California)

There are developed campgrounds in Giant Sequoia National Monument, but our favorite dispersed sites are around Dome Rock off Highway 190

…and finally our #1 National Forest for dispersed camping:

1. Inyo (California-Nevada)

The night skies are incredible in this high-elevation region; we have dispersed camped around Mono Lake, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead

Honorable Mentions

Colville (Washington)

We found excellent dispersed campsites along the unpaved portions of Deadman Creek Road, plus good options in the Selkirk Mountains further east

Gallatin (Montana)

If you cannot find a campsite in Yellowstone National Park, try this National Forest on the west side of the park, specifically the free designated sites along Taylor Fork Road

Modoc  (California)

We have found many nice options in the northeast corner of California around Lava Beds National Monument, although snow blocks some roads well into June

Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

We have camped at Bullion Pass and on the West Fork of Eagle Creek on the road to the Settler’s Grove of Ancient Cedars

Kaibab (Arizona)

If you want to avoid the busy campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park, try the National Forest that sits outside its boundaries on both the North and South Rim

Flowering Tree Descriptions

In each one of our National Forest blog posts we have included a list of conifer tree and flowering tree species common to that forest.  Now, we thought it would be a good idea to include some brief descriptions of each of those species, after previously posting on conifers.  The term “flowering trees” refers to all Angiosperms with seeds enclosed within a carpel, as opposed to conifers/Gymnosperms (“naked seeds”).  They are sometimes called broadleaf or deciduous trees, although they include well-known evergreens like hollies, live oaks, madrones, and southern magnolia.  Our list is not broken down by Family (i.e. Fagaceae, Juglandaceae, etc.), but simply alphabetically by scientific name (Latin binomial composed of Genus and specific epithet).  We hope our descriptions inspire you to further research some species of interest.

Acer circinatum
vine maple
This twisting, often multi-stemmed shrub can reach 25 feet in height in its streamside habitat.  Its leaves are relatively rounded for a maple, turning from bright green to orange or red in the autumn.
Acer glabrum
Rocky Mountain maple
This is the northernmost maple species found in North America, ranging from Arizona to southeast Alaska.  It is also called dwarf maple because it often grows as a shrub in wet soils and reaches a maximum height of 30 feet.
Acer grandidentatum
bigtooth maple
Its scientific name refers to the deep lobes of the leaves tipped with blunt teeth, which turn red or yellow in the autumn.  Closely related to the sugar maple of the east, its sap can be used to make maple sugar.
Acer macrophyllum
bigleaf maple
This shade toleranttree is aptly named since it has the largest leaves of any maple species, often reaching over a foot in width.  Although rarely exceeding 70 feet in height, the wood of this wetland tree is commonly used for furniture, veneer, and handles.
Acer negundo
Unlike other maples that it is related to, boxelder has compound leaves in groups of three, making its root sprouts easy to mistake for poison-ivy.  Both species grow in riparian environments, but boxelder can reach 60 feet in height.  It is found from the Rocky Mountains all the way to Florida.
Acer rubrum
red maple
Found from Florida to Maine and sea level to 6,000 feet in elevation, red maple may have North America’s most spectacular display of fall foliage with yellow, orange, and red shades often found on the same tree. 
Acer saccharinum
silver maple
Found from floodplains to mountain coves, silver maple is a shallow-rooted, medium-sized tree with the largest samaras of any eastern maple.
Acer saccharum
sugar maple
Sugar maple is the primary species whose sap is tapped in the spring to make maple syrup.  This large tree of the northeast U.S. can reach seven feet in diameter and its wood is prized for furniture, flooring, and veneer.
Aesculus californica
California buckeye
California buckeye is a small, thicket-forming tree identified by its palmately compound leaves and three-inch capsule fruit containing poisonous seeds.  In the dry foothills of the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada, its large leaves often turn brown by mid-summer.
Aesculus flava
yellow buckeye
One of only a few large American trees with palmately compound leaves, this water-loving species can reach three feet in diameter and more than 100 feet in height.  Indigenous people were able to eat the large, toxic nuts by roasting and soaking them.
Alnus incana
gray alder
Also called mountain or thinleaf alder, this riparian shrub is found from Alaska to New Mexico.  Like other alders, it has nodules on its roots that help bacteria fix nitrogen from the atmosphere improving overall soil quality.
Alnus rhombifolia
white alder
A riparian species often found in the dry chaparral and foothill woodlands throughout California and western Idaho from near sea level up to 8,000 feet in elevation.  Also called Sierra alder, this straight-trunked tree can reach 80 feet in height.  Its small fruit look similar to miniature pine cones. 
Alnus rubra
red alder
Typically a riparian species, the fast-growing red alder is the most commercially important hardwood tree in the western U.S.  An early successional species throughout the Pacific Coast, it often forms pure stands following wildfires or clearcut logging.
Amelanchier alnifolia
Saskatoon serviceberry
Also known as saskatoon, juneberry, or shadbush, this small tree has smooth, gray bark and rounded leaves.  It is typically found in moist soils where it grows an apple-like pome that is edible to humans and wildlife.
Amelanchier utahensis
Utah serviceberry
Also known as Utah juneberry, this small, shade tolerant tree produces an apple-like pome that is edible to humans and wildlife.  Its straight branches were traditionally used to mark arrow shafts.
Arbutus menziesii
Pacific madrone
Easily identified by its shiny red bark, the evergreen Pacific madrone tree can reach 100 feet in height and more than four feet in diameter.  Found from sea level up to 5,900 feet, its wood is used for a wide variety of products.
Arbutus xalapensis
Texas madrone
The smooth, red bark of Texas madrone makes it easily identifiable, though it rarely reaches more than 20 feet in height.  Like its relative the manzanita bush, it produces bright red clusters of berrylike fruit that are eaten by many bird species.
Arctostaphylos patula
greenleaf manzanita
There are numerous species of this red-barked shrub found throughout the western U.S. in chaparral and dry woodlands.  Manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish and many varieties produce mealy fruit eaten by wildlife and used by some American Indians to make cider.
Artemisia tridentata
big sagebrush
A widely distributed shrub of the Great Basin Desert and dry foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this aromatic species is an important food source for mule deer, pronghorns, and a variety of birds, including sage grouse.
Betula alleghaniensis
yellow birch
The shiny bronze or silver bark with small peeling papery strips differentiates yellow birch from its lighter barked relatives.  Found throughout the northeast and Appalachian Mountains, this valuable timber commercial tree species can reach two feet in diameter and 110 feet in height.
Betula occidentalis
water birch
Water birch is a riparian tree found throughout the Rocky Mountains from Alaska south to New Mexico with an elevation range of 330 to 9,840 feet.  It can hybridize with paper birch, but is known for its darker bronze bark.
Betula papyrifera
paper birch
Transcontinental in its distribution, paper birch is easily identifiable by its white bark that comes off in papery strips.  Birchbark canoes were made by sewing together these strips and caulking the seams with pine resin.
Betula pumila
bog birch
Also called bog birch, this deciduous shrub generally grows in wetlands and stays under 12 feet in height.  As with other birches, it has dentate leaves, catkins, and large lenticels on its bark.
Carya cordiformis
bitternut hickory
Bitternut hickory grows from Texas into Quebec, farther north than any other North American hickory.  It is the shortest-lived of those hickories, but does reproduce from stump and root sprouts.
Carya glabra
pignut hickory
One of many species of hickory found in the eastern U.S., pignut (or red) hickory is a medium-sized tree typically only growing to 60 feet tall and two feet in diameter.
Carya illinoinensis
One of North America’s most valuable native trees in cultivation, this bottomland species produces large, edible nuts.  Related to hickories, pecan can reach 130 feet tall and more than four feet in diameter.
Carya ovata
shagbark hickory
Shagbark gets its descriptive name from the curved strips of gray bark loosely attached to its trunk.  Historically, hickory trees were utilized for their edible nuts, dense wood good for tool handles, and yellow dye produced from nut husks.
Carya tomentosa
mockernut hickory
Mockernut hickory is the most common hickory of the sandy coastal plains that are usually dominated by pine forests.  It is a slow growing tree, but can survive for 500 years.
Cercocarpus ledifolius
curl-leaf mountain-mahogany
This small tree can reach 30 feet in height, but is typically a shrub common throughout the Great Basin where its evergreen leaves provide year-round browse for mule deer.  It is not a true mahogany, but its dark heartwood may have led to the misnomer as it was used by the Navajo to make red dye.
Chrysolepis chrysophylla
giant chinquapin
Also called goldenleaf chestnut, this evergreen hardwood can grow as a shrub or a straight-trunked tree that reaches 80 feet in height.  While not a true chestnut, it grows similar spiny fruit with edible nuts.
Cornus florida
flowering dogwood
This small, understory tree can grow in a variety of soil types across the eastern U.S.  Its flowers are flanked by four large, white brachts that form in early spring, making it a popular ornamental tree.  Its dense wood was historically used to make weaving-shuttles.
Cornus nuttallii
Pacific dogwood
The four petal-like, white bracts that surround the center flowers of Pacific dogwoods make them a popular ornamental tree, especially since they frequently bloom twice a year.  An understory species that prefers moist soils, they rarely reach more than 50 feet in height or one foot in diameter.
Cornus sericea
red-osier dogwood
Also called kinnikinnik, red-osier dogwood is transcontinental in its range, but rarely reaches more than ten feet in height.  Its red stems are similar to those of some willows (known as osiers) that are used to make baskets.  The shrub is planted ornamentally and for streambank erosion control.
Corylus cornuta
beaked hazel
Beaked hazel grows across North America as a smooth-barked, multi-stemmed shrub that rarely reaches more than 30 feet in height.  Its fruit has a brown husk with distinctive fibrous “beaks.”   The edible nuts are important for wildlife, but are not the commercially grown European hazelnut or filbert.
Crataegus chrysocarpa
Piper’s hawthorn
First identified along the Columbia River, this multi-stemmed shrub (also called red hawthorn) is a western relative of fireberry hawthorn.  Its purplish-red fruits mature in late summer in its streamside habitat.
Crataegus douglasii
black hawthorn
A small tree that can reach 30 feet in height, black hawthorn can grow as far north as southeast Alaska.  Typically a riparian species, its glossy leaves provide browse for ungulates and its shiny, black berries food for several species of birds.  Its half-inch white flowers make it a common ornamental.
Diospyros virginiana
common persimmon
A medium-sized tree of the southeast U.S., common persimmon produces an astringent, pulpy fruit eaten by opossums, raccoons, skunks, white-tailed deer, and a variety of birds, as well as humans (especially baked in cakes).
Fagus grandifolia
American beech
The papery thin, deciduous leaves of American beech allow it to grow in shady conditions throughout the eastern U.S. where it can reach more than three feet in diameter.  It is known for its smooth, gray bark and edible beechnuts, which are an important food source for wildlife.
Fraxinus americana
white ash
This upland ash tree is identifiable by its seven to nine leaflets per leaf and terminal bud that resembled a horned Viking helmet.  Its wood is valuable for making baseball bats, cabinets, and furniture.
Fraxinus pennsylvanica
green ash
This riparian species is widespread from the Great Plains to Nova Scotia, plus it is often planted for shelterbelts and mine reclamation.  All native ash trees are being impacted by invasive emerald ash borers, an insect species which has already killed more than 100-million trees in North America.
Gleditsia triacanthos
Native to the central U.S., honeylocust is now naturalized to the east coast and planted ornamentally nationwide as a fast-growing shade tree or hedge shrub.  This medium-sized tree is notable for its 18-inch-long legume pods and large thorns that often grow in clusters.
Gymnocladus dioicus
Kentucky coffeetree
This tree is planted as an ornamental, even though it sheds its leaves early and is uncommon in its native bottomland hardwood forests.  It is easily identifiable by its thick, brown legumes that reach up to seven inches in length.  The raw seeds and the pulp between them are poisonous, but roasted seeds were historically used as a coffee substitute.
Hesperocyparis sargentii
Sargent cypress
Sargent cypress and the shorter McNab cypress grow on outcrops of serpentine rock where they can tolerate the high magnesium levels in the soil that are toxic to other plants.  Both species can be found along Frenzel Creek near Little Stoney Campground in Mendocino National Forest.
Ilex opaca
American holly
Widespread throughout the southeast U.S., this shade tolerant tree is easily recognized by its spiny-pointed evergreen leaves and bright red fruit, which is eaten by birds and mammals.
Ilex vomitoria
yaupon holly
Alternatively called Christmas-berry, this evergreen shrub produces shiny red berries that make it a prized ornamental.  Its interesting scientific name comes from the fact that American Indians brewed the leaves into a tea to serve as an emetic and laxative.
Juglans major
Arizona walnut
This riparian species can be found in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness of Kaibab National Forest.  The tree’s range continues south into Mexico where the small walnuts (or “nogales”) are collected.  It can reach 50 feet in height and two feet in diameter, often growing burls at its base that are cut to make beautiful tabletops.
Juglans nigra
black walnut
This large deciduous tree has a distinctive smell that comes from allelopathic chemical compounds that prevent certain plants from growing beneath them.  Not the same species that is commercially grown for edible walnuts, nevertheless its wood is valuable for furniture and veneer.
Liquidambar styraciflua
This fast-growing tree is widespread throughout the southeastern U.S. and also planted as an ornamental (especially in California).  Sweetgum is easily identified by its five-pointed leaves and spiky capsule fruit.
Liriodendron tulipifera
Also called yellow-poplar or tuliptree because of its showy green and orange flowers that grow in the spring just after the leaves unfold, this long-lived tree can reach 175 feet in height and eleven feet in diameter.  It is a valuable timber species due to the fast growth of its straight, self-pruning trunks, especially those that arise from stump sprouts.
Lyonia ferruginea
palo colorado
This same species grows as a shrub called “titi” in swamps of the southeastern U.S., but in Puerto Rican tropical rainforests it can reach up to 50 feet in height.  The hollow trunks of these red-barked trees were historically used for nesting by Puerto Rican parrots, an endangered species once down to only 13 wild individuals.
Maclura pomifera
There is only one species in this Genus with a very limited range in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, although it has been widely planted throughout the Great Plains for windbreaks.  Female trees produce heavy, round, green fruits about five inches in diameter that are eaten by livestock, giving it the common name of horse-apple.  American Indians used the spiny branches to make archery bows, which is why it also known as bodark.
Magnolia grandiflora
southern magnolia
A commonly planted ornamental tree worldwide, southern magnolia is native to the Coastal Plain of the southeast U.S.  It is notable for its thick evergreen leaves and 6-inch showy white flowers (featured on the Mississippi state flag).
Magnolia macrophylla
bigleaf magnolia
Living up to its alternate common name of umbrella-tree, bigleaf magnolia has the largest leaves (up to 30 inches long) of any native North American tree.  This understory species grows to about 40 feet in height and is only found in moist soils.
Malus fusca
Oregon crab apple
A small tree reaching only 30 feet in height, Oregon crab apple produces an oblong-shaped pome eaten by wildlife.  Its fruit is used by humans to make jellies and its wood for tool handles. 
Notholithocarpus densiflorus
The bark of tanoak was historically used in the leather tanning industry.  Although it is not a true oak tree, it does produce acorns and grows pubescent, evergreen leaves.  Often found growing near coast redwoods, it reproduces extensively by coppice sprouting, especially after fires. 
Nyssa aquatica
water tupelo
Primarily found growing in swamps and margins of ponds, water tupelo can reach 100 feet in height and up to eight feet in diameter.  Its heavy seeds are distributed by birds, rodents, and water (that can often reach six feet deep in the winter).
Nyssa biflora
swamp tupelo
Swamp tupelo and the related water tupelo tolerate long periods of flooding, which is why their Genus is named for mythical Greek water nymphs.  All tupelo species are deciduous and important bee trees.
Nyssa sylvatica
black tupelo
Unlike the related water and swamp tupelos, black tupelo (or blackgum) does not tolerate long periods of flooding.  This deciduous tree can reach more than 100 feet in height and three feet in diameter.
Ostrya virginiana
eastern hophornbeam
The alternate common names of musclewood and ironwood give some idea of the density of this slow-growing, understory tree that was historically used for tool handles and fenceposts.
Oxydendrum arboreum
An understory tree that prefers moist soils, sourwood can be identified by its finely-tooted seven-inch leaves that taste like sour candy and turn red in autumn.  The honey from bee hives located near sourwood trees is prized. 
Parkinsonia florida
blue paloverde
Paloverde is Spanish for “green stick,” which is what allows this small tree to photosynthesize even when it does not have leaves, which is most of the year.  The ranges of blue and yellow paloverde trees overlap throughout the Sonoran Desert, with the blue paloverde more common along drainages where it grows large yellow flowers that mature into legumes eaten by wildlife and, historically, indigenous people.
Philadelphus lewisii
This deciduous shrub was first collected by Meriwether Lewis in 1806 and another common name is Lewis’ mock-orange.  Syringa’s white blooms are the state flower of Idaho.
Platanus occidentalis
The thin, mottled bark makes sycamore easy to identify in its riparian habitat in the eastern U.S., as does its one-inch spherical fruit composed of elongated achenes.  It is also called American planetree to distinguish it from the ornamentally-planted London planetree.
Platanus wrightii
Arizona sycamore
The beautiful white bark and spreading canopy of Arizona sycamore trees can be found in riparian areas like Oak Creek Canyon.  You can see Arizona sycamores (as well as the remains of a historic lodge and orchard) on the West Fork Trail, a place immortalized in Zane Grey’s novel The Call of the Canyon
Populus angustifolia
narrowleaf cottonwood
Named for its lance-shaped, finely toothed leaves, narrowleaf cottonwood is a riparian species like its relatives.  However, unlike other cottonwoods, it rarely grows more than 50 feet tall.
Populus balsamifera
balsam poplar
This deciduous species is primarily found in the boreal forest, where it grows farther north than any other tree in North America.  It is found in patches throughout Wyoming, where its root sprouts provide browse for moose, deer, and elk, just as they do throughout Canada.
Populus deltoides
eastern cottonwood
The plains cottonwood of Nebraska is sometimes described as a separate species or a subspecies of eastern cottonwood.  Both are known for their triangular leaves and growth along waterways where they can reach diameters in excess of ten feet, though the big trees often suffer heart rot in their center.
Populus fremontii
Fremont cottonwood
Named for explorer John C. Fremont, this riparian species is commonly found throughout California east to the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.  An indicator of permanent subsurface water, trees can reach more than four feet in diameter, though they are often afflicted with heart rot and parasitic mistletoe.  Their roots are the wood traditionally used by the Hopi to carve kachinas.
Populus grandidentata
bigtooth aspen
This medium-sized tree of the northeast U.S. can be found growing alongside the related quaking aspen, but is distinguished by its larger leaves with coarse, curved teeth.  Both species are root-sprouting pioneers browsed by wildlife.
Populus tremuloides
quaking aspen
Transcontinental in distribution, quaking aspen is named for the way the leaves flutter in the slightest breeze as they dangle on very long, flattened stems.  Aspen trees are beautiful in the autumn when their leaves turn golden yellow, or, occasionally, shades of red and orange.
Prosopis velutina
velvet mesquite
Like honey mesquite that grows across Texas, this Arizona species is utilized by bees to produce a fragrant honey.  Its large taproot allows it to survive in the Sonoran Desert where other trees cannot, which made its eight-inch-long seedpods an important food source for indigenous people.
Prunus emarginata
bitter cherry
As its name suggests, humans do not eat the fruit of this shrub, though many songbirds and mammals do.  It is found in a variety of habitats along the Pacific Coast, as well as northeastern Oregon and northern Idaho.
Prunus serotina
black cherry
Widespread in the eastern half of the United States, and found as far west as Arizona, this species famous for its veneer and furniture wood may grow best on the Allegheny Plateau.
Prunus virginiana
choke cherry
Distributed from California to Newfoundland, this shrub produces small, blackish cherries that are very astringent, but can be made into preserves.
Quercus alba
white oak
White oak is a dominant tree in mixed hardwood forests throughout the eastern U.S., reaching a maximum size of 150 feet tall and nine feet in diameter.  It is an important commercial lumber species, specifically used to make watertight casks for aging whiskey and wine.
Quercus arizonica
Arizona white oak
One of several oak species native to eastern Arizona (many of which hybridize), this evergreen oak can reach up to 65 feet in height in moist soils.  Its one-inch acorns are an important food source for wildlife.
Quercus falcata
southern red oak
A common upland oak species, this large tree can reach more than 100 feet tall and up to nine feet in diameter in mixed hardwood and pine stands.  Its leaves grow in a wide variety of shapes, but are notable for the fuzzy pubescence on the underside that dries to a rusty brown color.
Quercus gambelii
Gambel oak
Named for a nineteenth-century naturalist from Philadelphia, this oak tree is prevalent in the Southwest U.S. where it can reach 70 feet in height, but is more commonly a thicket-forming shrub.  The deciduous foliage is browsed by mule deer and its small acorns are an important food source for wild turkeys, quail, squirrels, and livestock.
Quercus garryana
Oregon white oak
Known for its spreading, round-topped crown, this medium-sized deciduous tree rarely reaches more than 50 to 70 feet tall in its dry, rocky habitat.
Quercus laevis
turkey oak
The only oak tree associated with longleaf pine stands on the sandy coastal plain, it rarely reaches more than 40 feet in height or one foot in diameter.  Its common name refers to its leaves’ tendency to grow like a three-toed turkey foot.
Quercus macrocarpa
bur oak
Wyoming represents the westernmost extent of this species, notable for its acorns that are conspicuously fringed along their cap giving it the alternate common name of mossycup oak.  This long-lived tree (up to 440 years) is more drought tolerant than other oaks, which is why it is has been successful growing on the prairies and Great Plains.
Quercus montana
rock chestnut oak
This represents the westernmost extent of this oak tree found on dry, rocky ridges throughout the Appalachian Mountains.  Its deciduous leaves have crenate margins, unlike the serrate and bristle-tipped leaves of American chestnut.
Quercus nigra
water oak
As its name suggests, water oak prefers to grow in bottomland forests where its oblong leaves make it easy to distinguish from the other oak species it grows beside throughout the southeastern U.S.
Quercus rubra
northern red oak
One of the most widespread and important commercial species in the eastern U.S., this tree can reach 140 feet in height and eight feet in diameter.
Quercus velutina
black oak
An eastern oak found from sea level to 5,000 feet in elevation, where it can tolerate poorer soils with its deep taproot.  It is somewhat fast growing for an oak tree, rarely surviving more than 200 years.
Quercus virginiana
live oak
The long, curved branches of live oak trees were once important to the shipbuilding industry, but now they are more appreciated for their picturesque beauty when draped with Spanish moss.  This short, evergreen oak is found growing in sandy soils from the coast of Virginia to Texas.
Quercus wislizeni
interior live oak
A prominent species in the dry foothills of the Sierra Nevada and inner Coast Ranges, this slow-growing, evergreen oak can reach seven feet in diameter.
Rhododendron maximum
great rhododendron
The largest rhododendron of North America, it is also called rosebay or great-laurel (not to be confused with mountain-laurel).  This evergreen shrub’s foliage and bark are poisonous, and be aware that smoke from its burning wood is also toxic to humans.
Rhododendron macrophyllum
Pacific rhododendron
An understory species of temperate rainforests and coast redwood forests, this evergreen shrub can form dense thickets up to 25 feet in height.  Its large, pink flower clusters bloom in spring.
Rhododendron periclymenoides
wild azalea
Rhododendrons with deciduous leaves are called azaleas, and this species blooms its pinkish flowers before its leaves start growing in the spring.
Robinia neomexicana
New Mexico locust
This spiny tree with showy clusters of pink pea flowers can reach 25 feet in height.  Like other members of the Legume Family, it grows pinnately compound leaves, pea pods up to four inches in length, and root nodules that assist bacteria in nitrogen fixation.
Robinia pseudoacacia
black locust
This spiny-limbed legume tree is native to the east-central U.S., but after being introduced to Germany in 1601 is now an invasive throughout Europe.  This fast-growing root-sprouter rarely reaches more than 60 feet in height, either forming a spreading thicket or a single, straight trunk.
Salix bebbiana
Bebb willow
Rarely reaching more than 25 feet in height, this multi-stemmed shrub is named for Michael Shuck Bebb, an American specialist in willows from the 1800s.  It is one of several willows that form “diamond willow” patterns caused by fungi that are commonly used for walking sticks and railings.
Salix interior
sandbar willow
Also called narrowleaf or coyote willow, this shrub is found from Alaska to the Great Lakes, and is a common riparian species in the Great Plains and Southwest where it can grow at elevations up to 8,000 feet.  This drought tolerant willow is commonly planted to prevent stream bank erosion.
Salix lucida
shining willow
This species grows along riverbanks throughout western North America, including the Pacific Northwest where abundant rainfall allows it to reach up to 60 feet in height and three feet in diameter.  Like most of the 30 species of tree-sized American willows, it has lance-shaped deciduous leaves and its young twigs are reddish in color.
Salix scouleriana
Scouler’s willow
Named for a Scottish naturalist of the 1800s, Scouler willow has a range extending from the Rocky Mountains all the way up to Alaska.  An important browse species for wildlife, it can grow up to 10,000 feet in elevation.
Sambucus canadensis
American elder
A large shrub of the eastern U.S., this root sprouter produces elderberries used to make jelly, pies, and wine.  The evergreen variety that grows in Florida blooms throughout the year.
Sambucus nigra
black elderberry
Planted ornamentally for its white flower clusters and edible bluish fruit, this shrub is found throughout western North America.  California Indians made flutes from cut twigs by removing the pith.
Sassafras albidum
Sassafras is an understory tree distinguished by its deeply-lobed leaves that turn orange to red in the fall and are used as thickening agent in Creole food. 
Sorbus scopulina
Greene’s mountain-ash
This thicket-forming shrub is found throughout the Rocky Mountains and north into Alaska.  Its European relatives are called “rowan-trees” in reference to their clusters of bright red berries.
Umbellularia californica
The streaky wood of this shade tolerant evergreen tree is often marketed as Oregon-myrtle.  Found in the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada foothills, its foliage and twigs have a pungent camphor-like odor when crushed. 

Top 10 Gifts for National Park Lovers

It is gift buying season again, so we decided to take a shot at a list of ideas for that special someone in your life who loves National Parks.  There are currently 63 National Parks among the 420+ units in the National Park Service (NPS) system, which are the main focus of these items.  We have been two parks short of visiting all 63 since 2016, but we already have our plane tickets to American Samoa for January 2023 and we plan to drive to Alaska this summer so we can fly to the last of that state’s eight National Parks.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists, including some book lists that may help you find a special gift for your favorite reader.  As always, products we have created are available under the Shop tab above. We also have a Pinterest board for National Parks gift ideas, as well as those harder-to-find National Forest gifts.

10. Postcards

For someone on the quest to visit all 63 National Parks, pick up a packet of postcards showcasing all of them (or a set of notecards highlighting their favorite one so far)

9. Quarters

The U.S. Mint finished releasing its America the Beautiful series in 2021; there are books and maps highlighting all 56 quarters (and you can buy the entire set for little more than the coins value)

8. Stuffies

Seeing wildlife is a big draw to most of the large National Parks, so what better way to remember an encounter than a stuffed animal version?

7. Coasters

We often purchase a Lantern Press coaster from the National Park Service bookstore during our visits, but there are also sets for sale online

6. Games

If your lover of National Parks likes board games, there are branded versions of the classics (like Yahtzee and Monopoly) or original games available

5. Mugs

Why not recall a favorite park every time you enjoy a hot beverage?

4. Jewelry

Artists on Etsy offer some awesome jewelry highlighting the National Parks, including coin-rings and bracelets

3. Guidebooks

Especially if your National Parks lover is just getting started, a good guidebook can help with planning the travel logistics

2. Clothing

T-shirts, hoodies, socks, and anything else people wear have all been emblazoned with National Park logos and images

…and finally our #1 gift for National Park lovers:

1. Posters

Artwork or photographs of our beautiful National Parks make a great gift and there are an overwhelming number of options (try starting at Creative Action Network)

Honorable Mentions


There are many nice calendars published every year with artwork or photographs from our wonderful National Parks


Jigsaw puzzles had a renaissance during the pandemic and there are plenty of National Park-themed options


There are some cool ways to keep warm under a stylish National Park blanket, like one from Rumpl


For someone on the quest to visit all 63 National Parks, they can track their progress on a map or scratch-off list

Photo album or photo board

We passport stamp all of the “unigrid” pamphlets (like the ones Echo the Raven poses with for each NPS blog post) from the parks and collect them in a photo album (actually three since we have visited 378 units so far)

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