The hidden history of California’s parks

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Cathedral Cove

July 4th has come and gone, which means that summer is officially here. Given any thought yet to where you might go on vacation?

We’re looking at some of California’s less well-known state and national parks—going beyond the superstars like Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree to some of the places that tend to get passed by. Some of them, you can cover in a few hours. Others might take a whole day—or maybe even two or three. But for various reasons, we feel they all qualify as “Hidden Gems”.

Channel Islands National Park

San Miguel's surrounding offshore rocks include Castle Rock. (Photo: NPS)
San Miguel’s surrounding offshore rocks include Castle Rock. (Photo: NPS)

Yvonne Menard, public information officer for Channel Islands National Park, says the park is sometimes thought of as the North American version of the Galapagos.

Fort Ross State Historic Park

Ft. Ross State Historic Park (Photo: NPS)

Among the different groups that are typically given credit for helping to settle and shape early California are the Native Americans, Mexicans, Spaniards, and Chinese. But the Russians played a role as well. In the early 1800s, they had a thriving settlement along the coast of Northern California, known as Fort Ross–located about 75 miles south of what we now call Mendocino.

Hank Birnbaum is with the Fort Ross Conservancy, which works with the state park service to help preserve the site. We asked him how the Russians came to be in California:

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. (Photo: CA Parks)
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. (Photo: CA Parks)

Just outside of Bakersfield is Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. The park’s manager, Steve Ptomey, says the park commemorates the site of the only city in California that was founded, financed, and governed completely by African-Americans.

It all began in 1908 with a retired military chaplain and former slave named Allen Allensworth.  He joined forces with a handful of other men in an effort to help African-Americans control their destiny.

But starting around 1913, the community of Allensworth hit hard times, due to a number of factors—including a severe drought and the decision by the Santa Fe railroad to move a commercial stop from Allensworth to the nearby town of Alpaugh, taking some high paying jobs with it.

Today, the state park includes almost two dozen restored homes–showing how people lived at the turn of the century–along with a church, a school, and other buildings.

Below, we talk with the park’s manager Steve Ptomey:

Lava Beds National Monument

Fog over Tule Lake at Lava Beds National Monument. (Photo: NPS)
Fog over Tule Lake at Lava Beds National Monument. (Photo: NPS)

When most people think of the natural wonders of California, the first things that come to mind may be mountains, sequoias, redwoods, the ocean, the desert. Not volcanoes.  But this park is located on the side of a volcano.

Lava Beds National Monument is way up in the northeastern part of California—tucked in the corner between Oregon and Nevada.

The first thing we asked park superintendent Mike Reynolds was—is the volcano active?