Regional Overview

The natural history of northern California is something to behold, even if you're not a particularly enthusiastic student of geology. Mother Nature's ability to create places like Yosemite, Big Sur, and Redwood National Forest is a study in sheer force, of land and water and air colliding furiously for centuries before settling into today's stunning vacation destinations.

There is a sense of amazement that comes with learning about the creation of redwood trees that stand more than 300 feet tall — the height of a thirty-story skyscraper. You don't have to be a scientist to be impressed by the massive tectonic plates shifting beneath Earth's surface with such violence that they birth entire mountain ranges. Even the smallest child can imagine sprawling glaciers carving out grand valleys before melting into the rivers and waterfalls that you can visit on tours of places like Yosemite. You can watch the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean bash into places like Big Sur, eroding more and more of the land into natural rock sculptures with every crash.


Spots like Redwood National Forest are so geologically different from any other places on Earth that they appeal to moviemakers trying to create futuristic and prehistoric backdrops. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi filmed some scenes among the towering trees, as did The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Each of northern California's national and state parks has a mesmerizing geologic backstory, and you can incorporate them into your vacation if you want to add an educational component to your family's sightseeing. Yosemite National Park, for instance, has easyto-follow, online curriculum outlines designed for teachers that you can use to create pretrip lessons. These lessons will help children better understand the geology and natural history that went into creating the vistas you explore as a family.

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