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National Treasures: America’s Best Idea

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Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Photograph by Sorin Colac/Alamy Stock Photo)

More than 400 sites make up the U.S. National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th birthday in 2016 amid much expected hoopla befitting what has often been called “America’s best idea.”

But here’s what just might be overshadowed in the hubbub: the parks themselves, particularly the lesser known ones, whose names don’t roll smoothly off the public’s tongue as does “Yellowstone” or “Yosemite” or “Grand Canyon.”

A new National Geographic book pays homage to them all—in chronological order—and not surprisingly, with an abundance of arresting photos on a scale grand and small.

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The National Parks: An Illustrated History is a visual romp through more than a century of America’s valiant, if imperfect, efforts to preserve its landscapes, wildlife, and cultural past.

From the waters running through the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (“dammed, channeled, leveed, diverted, polluted, and altered in countless other ways”), to Washington, D.C.’s Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, to the marine life of Alaska’s Glacier Bay (“Time isn’t on a wristwatch here”), the 368-page book is itself not a bad idea.

This piece, written by Norie Quintos, appeared in the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow Norie on Twitter @noriecicerone.

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