National Treasures

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If the last few weeks of summer vacation season find you on a trip to one of the more than 400 parks, monuments, and other sites in America’s national parks, you’re in good company: the National Park Service, which celebrates its centennial today, hosted 307.2 million visitors last year. That's an all-time record, at sites ranging from San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Olympic National Forest

A scene from Olympic National Forest depicted in the Hall of North American Forests.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


Of these, about 40 million tourists trekked to the most popular national parks—the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park topped the list.

Cougar Diorama

The cougar diorama depicts Grand Canyon National Park.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


Even if you’re not national park-bound this summer, you can celebrate the centennial of these national treasures from the air-conditioned comfort of the Museum’s Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals and Hall of North American Forests, where dioramas re-create some of the most picturesque vistas from national parks and monuments.

Grizzly Bear Diorama

Grizzly bears are one of many species that can be found in Yosemite National Park. 

© AMNH/D. Finnin


Several feature lands that were protected by President Theodore Roosevelt, whose passion for conservation was stoked by naturalist John Muir and Museum ornithologist Frank Chapman. Chapman, who had pioneered the use of “habitat groups” or dioramas to educate the public about threats to wildlife, helped persuade Roosevelt to establish the first Federal Bird Reserve on Florida’s Pelican Island in 1903. That same year, a camping trip with John Muir convinced Roosevelt that Yosemite Valley, depicted in the Museum’s coyote diorama, deserved federal protection as part of Yosemite National Park.

Coyote Diorama

Yosemite National Park serves as the backdrop for the coyote diorama. 

© AMNH/R. Mickens


“When visited, national parks inspire an immense sense of gratitude for the bequests given to all of us by our forebears,” says Theodore Roosevelt IV, the president’s great-grandson and a Trustee of the Museum. “They make us realize that we have to act as responsible stewards to be able to pass on these lands to our children’s children unimpaired.”

Saguaro National Monument

The Museum's dioramas let you visit Saguaro National Monument in the comfort of air conditioning.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


His great-grandfather’s now-legendary trip is re-enacted in the giant-screen film National Parks Adventure, which is playing in 2D and 3D in the Museum’s LeFrak Theater, playing through September 1.

National Parks Adventure Shot

You can see National Parks Adventure in the Museum's LeFrak Theater for just a few more days!

© MacGilvary Freeman Films


In person, on the big screen, or through the glass of a diorama, wilderness has never looked more inviting—or more worthy of every effort to preserve it.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the Member magazine Rotunda.