10 Fascinating Facts About the 10 Most Popular National Parks in America

iStock/Bkamprath
iStock/Bkamprath

The U.S. is home to 61 national parks, and each one has something special about it. If you're pressed for time, though, you may want to turn your attention to the 10 most popular parks. These destinations saw the highest attendance of any national park in 2018, according to a list compiled by the National Park Service. From Acadia to Zion and the Rockies to the Smokies, here are just some of the factors that make the 10 most-visited parks so unique.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the salamander capital of the world.

A salamander
iStock/Betty4240

Location: Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee
Total visitors in 2018: 11,421,200

This sprawling national park in the Smokies might be the most visited because it's also one of the most accessible, considering that it's located roughly within a day's drive of one-third of the U.S. population. The biodiversity is also undoubtedly a draw. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been dubbed the "salamander capital of the world," and it's home to 30 different species of "spring lizard," as they're called in Appalachia, including the largest one in North America—the hellbender.

2. Grand Canyon National Park visitors could see a sea of clouds.

The Grand Canyon surrounded by clouds
Erin Huggins, Grand Canyon National Park, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Northern Arizona
Total visitors in 2018: 6,380,495

Everyone knows the Grand Canyon, and for good reason—but did you know that its drastic landscape is capable of influencing the weather? Sharp changes in elevation mean that different parts of the park experience totally different weather conditions. North Rim is the coldest, wettest area in the region at an elevation of more than 8200 feet, but just 8 miles away lies Phantom Ranch, the hottest and one of the driest areas at 2460 feet. If you’re lucky, you may be able to witness a rare weather phenomenon called "total cloud inversion," which sometimes occurs at the Grand Canyon when cool air gets trapped beneath a layer of warm air creating a virtual sea of clouds.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park has the highest continuous paved highway in the U.S. running right through it.

A road high up in the mountains
iStock/SeanXu

Location: Northern Colorado
Total visitors in 2018: 4,590,493

As the third most-visited park in the U.S., Rocky Mountain sees a lot of foot traffic. Visitors can also drive along the scenic Trail Ridge Road, which has been called the "highway to the sky" because it soars two miles above sea level at its highest point. This 48-mile strip connects Grand Lake and Estes Park and delivers unparalleled views of the forests, tundra, and meadows below.

4. Zion National Park has its very own "Subway."

The Subway tunnel at Zion National Park
iStock/jezdicek

Location: Southwest Utah
Total visitors in 2018: 4,320,033

Only the adventurous can traverse The Subway in Zion National Park. To get to this tunnel carved out of rock, visitors must hike for 9 miles (round-trip), scramble over boulders, climb down waterfalls, and swim through creeks—"and the water is cold," according to Utah.com. The tubular landmark not only looks like a subway tunnel, but it also sounds like one, with the rushing water resembling the roaring sound of a subway as it pulls up to the station.

5. Yellowstone National Park once had a "bear lunch counter."

Bears gather to eat
Yellowstone National Park, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Location: Northwest Wyoming, Southern Montana, and Eastern Idaho
Total visitors in 2018: 4,115,000

Hungry black and grizzly bears used to feast on trash at an open-air dump in Yellowstone. These "bear shows" were a popular tourist activity between 1890 and the 1940s, and the park eventually installed wooden bleachers for spectators and a sign that read "Lunch Counter—For Bears Only." Unsurprisingly, this set-up was a recipe for disaster. Several park visitors were injured, and the feeding grounds ultimately closed to the public during World War II. The dump itself was shuttered in the '70s, and all waste is now removed from the park.

6. Yosemite National Park's "Firefall" was a huge spectacle for nearly a century.

The firefall at Yosemite
Scfry, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Location: Central California
Total visitors in 2018: 4,009,436

In 1872, a local hotel owner by the name of James McCauley tossed campfire embers over the top of Yosemite's Glacier Point, inadvertently creating a cascading "firefall" that looked pretty spectacular from a distance. Thus, a tradition was born, and each summer evening at 9 p.m. sharp, someone would shout "Let the fire fall!" before pushing embers over the edge. These shows were banned from 1913 to 1917, and again during World War II, but they weren't officially eliminated until 1968. The National Park Service said the man-made attraction was better suited to Disneyland than the natural world, and reasoned that the huge crowds also damaged local meadows.

7. For part of the year, Acadia National Park's Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise.

A sunrise over the water
iStock/Ultima_Gaina

Location: Maine's Mount Desert Island
Total visitors in 2018: 3,537,575

If you want to be the first person in America to see the sunrise, visit the top of Acadia's Cadillac Mountain between October 7 and March 6. The 1528-foot peak is the highest point along the North Atlantic, making it a great vantage point to watch the Atlantic Ocean's glistening waters as they're bathed in sunlight. At other points in the year, the first sunrise can be viewed from either West Quoddy Head or Mars Hill, both of which are also in Maine.

8. Grand Teton National Park's name is a reference to boobs.

A barn framed by mountains
iStock/KenCanning

Location: Northwest Wyoming
Total visitors in 2018: 3,491,151

To 19th-century French-Canadian fur trappers, three of the highest mountain peaks in what is now Grand Teton National Park apparently looked like the female form. They called them les trois tétons, which translates to "the three breasts" or "the three teats." It's believed that the trappers were referring specifically to Grand Teton, Teewinot Mountain, and Mt. Owen. At any rate, the name stuck and was later anglicized.

9. Olympic National Park is home to one of the world's few temperate rainforests.

A bridge in the park
iStock/laytonjeff

Location: Washington's Olympic Peninsula
Total visitors in 2018: 3,104,455

Temperate rainforests can be found in just a few places around the world, including Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and America's Pacific Northwest. Thanks to all the moisture coming from the nearby Pacific Ocean, swathes of Olympic National Park are a lush oasis of mosses, ferns, lichens, and Sitka spruce.

10. Glacier National Park has some residents who love visitors: the mountain goats.

A mountain goat
iStock/RhondaSuka

Location: Northwest Montana
Total visitors in 2018: 2,965,309

Mountain goats are perfectly at home along the rugged terrain of Glacier National Park. They can scale slopes at a 60-degree angle and withstand temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit, plus winds of 100 mph. (Confusingly, though, they're not actually goats at all. Rather, they're more closely related to gazelles and African antelope.) If you want to see these nimble mascots of Glacier National Park, you can head to Goat Lick Overlook, where the animals come to lick the salty, mineral-rich cliffs. Or, just go about your merry way and you'll surely see a few—the Glacier goats have learned that staying in the general vicinity of humans keeps them safer from predators.

7 Fast Facts About RollerCoaster Tycoon

Amazon
Amazon

For Windows gamers, 1999 was dominated by RollerCoaster Tycoon, a now-classic strategy and building game that tasked users with erecting an amusement park and gauging the popularity of rides while maintaining a profit margin and keeping patrons from barfing all over the landscape. For the game’s 20th anniversary, check out some facts about its origins, its association with pizza, and how it became a pinball machine.

1. The first RollerCoaster Tycoon sold 4 million copies.

RollerCoaster Tycoon was the brainchild of Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer, who had enjoyed success with his line of Transport Tycoon games in the 1990s that allowed players to build and operate their own railroad, truck, and ship lines. Sawyer decided to marry that concept with his love of roller coasters. An independent effort—Sawyer enlisted only two collaborators, artist Simon Foster and musician Allister Brimble—the first Tycoon game that was released in 1999 sold a staggering 4 million copies.

2. RollerCoaster Tycoon came free with frozen pizza.

In the early 2000s, packaged food companies offered products that came with promotional offers for CD-ROMs. In 2003, Pillsbury offered a free copy of RollerCoaster Tycoon to anyone who sent in proof of purchase barcodes from specially-marked boxes of Totino’s Pizza Rolls or Pillsbury Toaster Strudel.

3. There’s a RollerCoaster Tycoon pinball machine.

A pinball machine released to coincide with 2002’s RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 took the spiraling coasters of the game and put them under glass. Players could try and direct the pinball—a substitute for the park guest—around and through coasters like The Flying Ghost and The Rocket.

4. RollerCoaster Tycoon helped inspire Minecraft.

If you or a loved one has spent countless hours absorbed in the popular world-building game Minecraft, you have RollerCoaster Tycoon to thank. Minecraft creator Markus Persson was a fan of Tycoon for the way it allowed players to construct elaborate designs. He also enjoyed Dungeon Keeper, which had a fantasy element. Together, the two games encouraged him to develop Minecraft. The game debuted in 2009 and went on to become one of the biggest interactive success stories of all time.

5. RollerCoaster Tycoon inspired real roller coaster designers.

The laborious construction undertaken by players of RollerCoaster Tycoon weaned a number of players on the excitement of the amusement industry. Park designers hoping to break into the industry have used screen shots from the game as examples of their design prowess at trade shows.

6. You can get a spooky update of RollerCoaster Tycoon in time for Halloween.

Atari distributes an Android and iOS version of RollerCoaster Tycoon for mobile phone users. For 2019, the company is offering a Six Flags Fright Fest update to the game that adds a Halloween component. Players can add Skull Mountain, an actual Six Flags coaster, as well as a Demon Rock statue.

7. A RollerCoaster Tycoon fan spent 10 years building a park.

In 2017, a Reddit user declared he was finished building out his own custom park on RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. The 34 coasters and 255 attractions were all minutely detailed, offering a sprawling virtual park with themed areas covering everything from Egyptian attractions to a forest. In comparison, it took only four years to build the actual Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

10 Wild Scooby-Doo Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

For 50 years, the hard-working teens (and dog) of Mystery, Inc. have been investigating the paranormal. What began as a single Hanna-Barbera cartoon series—Scooby Doo, Where Are You!—in the 1960s quickly morphed into a franchise with multiple spin-off shows, comic books, and a few questionable movies. That adds up to a lot of spooky stories, which have inspired fans to come up with their own creepy (or just plain crazed) tales about Scooby and the gang. Here are some of their best theories, including one that somehow connects to Patrick Stewart.

1. Scooby is a Soviet space dog.

For all the cases that Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy solved, they never got to the bottom of the show’s most enduring mystery: How and why does Scooby Doo talk? Some fans think he can’t really speak—that it’s just something his buddy Shaggy imagines while he’s high. But one Redditor has a much more complicated and compelling theory based on the show’s 1960s setting. At that time, America and the USSR were locked in the so-called “Space Race,” competing to see who could claim the first achievements in spaceflight. The Russians famously shot Yuri Gagarin into the stratosphere in 1961, but he wasn’t the first Soviet in space. Canine cosmonauts like Laika beat him by several years, and if the USSR was willing to put a dog in a rocket, who’s to say they didn’t experiment on him first?

According to this fan theory, Scooby is a runaway from the Soviets’ classified space dog program, designed to breed pups capable of operating satellites and understanding radio commands. Scooby was the best of the bunch, the rare test subject who could understand and imitate human speech. Naturally, one of the scientists got attached and defected with Scooby to the USA. When that scientist died, Scooby found a new family with a group of friendly teenagers. But the CIA never stopped searching for this Soviet wunderpup, which is why Mystery, Inc. is constantly traveling by van—and why the original show is called Scooby Doo, Where Are You!

2. The show takes place during an economic depression.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

A classic Scooby-Doo mystery might take place at a theme park, museum, or mine—so long as it’s grimy and deserted. That’s a weird coincidence when you think about it: why are all these places so rundown? Well, that tends to happen when you’re weathering a financial collapse, and many clues indicate that’s just what’s happening in the world of Scooby-Doo. The towns he and his friends visit never seem to be doing well. No one has any money: Not the many scientists posing as monsters for cash, not the operators of every haunted attraction the gang investigates, and certainly not Shaggy and Scooby, who gorge on dog treats and lose their minds whenever they so much as smell a burger.

3. Mystery, Inc. is actually a cult.

Let’s break down the core members of the gang: You have Fred, the handsome and friendly frontman of the group. Then there’s Daphne, the fashionable and pretty one who mostly follows Fred around. Velma has the brains and Shaggy has full-blown conversations with a dog. When you really think about, doesn’t this all sound a bit like a cult? Fred would obviously be the cult leader, who recruits groupies like Daphne to obey his every command. Velma’s intelligence makes her a useful addition, and she could also be seeking acceptance from the “cool” kids. As for Shaggy, well, men who claim dogs can talk to them have a famously disturbing history—much like cult members.

4. They’re all draft dodgers.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You! premiered in 1969. Also happening that year? The Vietnam War. As able-bodied men (seemingly) over 18, Fred and Shaggy would both be eligible for the draft, which begs the obvious question: is Mystery, Inc. just a bunch of draft dodgers? The boys could be driving that van straight to Canada to avoid deployment, along with Fred’s fiancée Daphne and their antiwar activist friend Velma. Scooby’s stance on the war remains unclear, but he’s along for the ride.

5. Scooby Snacks alter your genes.

What if Scooby’s preferred treat is really a steroid capable of editing genetic code? It would explain why Scooby—and other members of his canine family, like Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Dum—can talk, as well as their ability to perform “completely ridiculous stunts.” (Also, if Scrappy-Doo is on steroids, it would explain why he’s always trying to fight.) But what about its effect on humans? As far as we know, Shaggy is the only person who eats Scooby Snacks, and he seems to have a freakishly high metabolism, considering the mile-high sandwiches he eats and his super skinny frame.

6. Fred drives the Mystery Machine because the real owner is too high.

Whenever the gang piles into the Mystery Machine, there’s only one person behind the wheel: Fred. Mystery, Inc.’s de facto leader is constantly driving his friends from one haunted house to the next, which would imply that the Mystery Machine is his car. But why would a clean-shaven, preppy kid like Fred own a lime green van with flowers plastered over the doors? That car obviously belongs to a hippie, and in this group, that’s Shaggy. His hippie lifestyle, however, may be the reason Shaggy never drives. He’s either lost his license from driving under the influence, or Fred is worried he will, so someone else serves as his designated driver.

7. Shaggy is Captain America’s son.

This theory starts with small coincidences, like the fact that Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Steve Rogers share a last name. Then it builds to something bigger when you factor in a detail from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While out on a morning run, Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) claims that Steve can run 13 miles in half an hour, a rate that breaks down to 26 mph. Shaggy, meanwhile, frequently keeps pace with Scooby, a Great Dane. Those dogs run up to 30 mph. Ergo, Shaggy is Steve’s son.

8. Monsters really do exist in the Scooby-Doo universe.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

Each time the gang catches a new “monster,” it always turns out to be a human in disguise, grumbling about how they “would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” Monsters, the show tells us over and over again, are not real. But this Reddit theory poses an important question: If monsters don’t exist, why is there a business dedicated to catching the fake ones? The fact that Mystery, Inc. keeps getting calls implies that “supernatural fraud” is an entire category of crime, one that wouldn’t make sense or work if people didn’t believe in monsters. Everyone in the Scooby-Doo universe also seems to accept monsters as a normal and everyday occurrence, suggesting that monsters are real—the gang has just never caught one.

9. Shaggy and Scooby are actors.

When danger calls, Shaggy and Scooby tend to run the other way. But what if the group’s most cowardly members were actually actors pretending to be scared of ghosts, monsters, and other paranormal entities? According to this fan theory, Shaggy and Scooby are faking their over-the-top fear in order to draw the monsters out. By posing as easy targets, they know they’ll get spooked first, and thus make it easier for Mystery, Inc. to trap the ghost/witch/pirate. That’s why Fred always pairs Shaggy with Scooby when they split up to investigate, and it’s why after many years of investigating the supernatural, the two of them still don’t seem remotely used to it.

10. Green Room is just a gritty Scooby-Doo reboot.

The 2015 horror movie Green Room is about a band with a van that squares off against an evil old Nazi. The Scooby-Doo franchise is about a team (that was supposed to be a band) with a van that squares off against evil old men (who could also, theoretically, be Nazis). You do the math.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER