Wonders of the National Parks
A Geology of North America

The Great Courses
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36 episodes in this series

Episode 1 Yellowstone: Microcosm of the National Parks
Start your tour of the geological wonders of North America's national parks with Yellowstone, where the breathtaking landscape inspired the idea of a national park. Focus on the processes that…
Episode 2 Yellowstone’s Cataclysmic Origins and Future
Read the evidence in the rocks to discover Yellowstone's bigger story: the massive volcanic eruptions that created the region and will one day destroy it, the glaciers that shaped the…
Episode 3 Grand Teton and Jackson Hole
At Grand Teton National Park south of Yellowstone, an active fault lifts some of North America's oldest rocks to the summits of some of the continent's youngest mountains. Explore these…
Episode 4 Hawaii Volcanoes
Compare the lessons of hotspot volcanism at Yellowstone with the very different landscape at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is also stoked by upwelling magma from Earth's mantle. Professor Cochran…
Episode 5 The Hawaiian Islands and Maui’s Haleakala
How does a barren volcanic landscape become a tropical paradise? Study the speed with which volcanic islands erode, leaving rich soil behind. Watch these processes at work on the Big…
Episode 6 Mount Saint Helens, Lassen Volcanic, Rainier
Tour Mount Rainier National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park in the Pacific Northwest, which are part of the Cascade Range of active volcanoes that include Mount Saint Helens. Then…
Episode 7 Crater Lake, Olympic, North Cascades
Learn how seafloor subduction raised a lofty volcano only to obliterate it in a colossal eruption that created Crater Lake in Oregon. Hundreds of miles to the north, tectonic forces…
Episode 8 Volcanoes of Alaska: Katmai and Lake Clark
Travel to Alaska to explore the vast national parks at Katmai and Lake Clark. Katmai was the site of the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption, while Lake Clark is unusual…
Episode 9 Alaska’s Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords
Continue your tour of the largest state with stops at two spectacular parks that are popular destinations for cruise ships: Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords. Discover how glaciers form and…
Episode 10 Yosemite: Nature’s Cathedral
Survey the most beautiful valley on Earth: Yosemite. Even for those who have not yet visited, its views are iconic thanks to stunning photos by Ansel Adams and others. Investigate…
Episode 11 Redwoods, Sequoias, and the Sierra Nevada
Dig deeper into the geology of Yosemite, charting the role of glaciers in shaping the terrain. Also, learn the origin of California's famous gold deposits. Then study the special conditions…
Episode 12 Pinnacles to Joshua Tree: The San Andreas
Trace the earth-shaking San Andreas fault through a series of national parks and recreation areas--from Point Reyes, Golden Gate, and Pinnacles in the north to the Santa Monica Mountains, Channel…
Episode 13 Denali to Gates of the Arctic
The story of the tectonic train wreck that built Alaska is written all over the three largest national parks in the U.S.: Wrangell-St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, and Denali.…
Episode 14 Death Valley and Great Basin: The Rift Zone
Continental rifting has caused huge blocks of land to sink between high mountain belts, producing Death Valley, the lowest, hottest, driest place in North America. Explore this and other national…
Episode 15 Shenandoah: The Collision of Old Continents
A hike along the Appalachian Trail is a journey back in time to a continental collision that raised mountains rivalling the Himalayas--now eroded into the Appalachians. Chart the geology of…
Episode 16 Great Smoky Mountains and Hot Springs
Survey some of the attractions that make the Great Smoky Mountains America's most visited national park. Investigate a related geological structure in the famous Hot Springs National Park, discovering why…
Episode 17 National Rivers: Gorges, Falls, and Meanders
Rivers are an important clue to the geology of a region and also offer superb possibilities for recreation. Journey to some of America's national rivers, wild and scenic rivers, water…
Episode 18 Great Dune Fields of North America
Sand dunes aren't usually pictured in a setting of alpine peaks, but that's precisely the scene at Great Sand Dunes National Park in the Colorado Rockies. Study the conditions that…
Episode 19 National Seashores and Lakeshores
Get your feet wet at America's coastal national parks, where dunes, salt marshes, ponds, and lagoons characterize shorelines. Investigate the myriad dynamic processes at Cape Hatteras, Cape Cod, and Assateague…
Episode 20 Reefs: Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas
Turn to a trio of national parks where corals and other reef creatures are helping create new carbonate rock. Then encounter a massive reef from our planet's past, raised to…
Episode 21 National Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments
Continue your underwater adventures by touring America's national marine sanctuaries and monuments, spread over more than a dozen locations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, plus the Gulf…
Episode 22 Acadia’s Highlands and Islands
The rocks of coastal Maine reveal a gripping legacy of lost oceans, colliding continents, epic mountains, furious volcanoes, and massive glaciers. Acadia National Park records evidence of all this, etched…
Episode 23 The Dakota Badlands
Visit Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, and Mount Rushmore National Parks in the Dakotas, beholding the landscape that inspired Theodore Roosevelt to become an ardent conservationist. Learn how the fantastic forms of…
Episode 24 The Grand Canyon’s 2-Billion-Year Staircase
Descend into the Grand Canyon, recording the full sequence of strata from top to bottom--a story that takes you from 270-million-year-old limestone formed in a shallow sea to basement rocks…
Episode 25 Carving the Grand Canyon
What did it take to carve the Grand Canyon? Explore theories on how this remarkable chasm came to be. Then take a boat trip through the park, from the Colorado…
Episode 26 Petrified Forest and Other Fossil Parks
See Petrified Forest National Park, a colorful landscape littered with fossil trees that shaded Earth's earliest dinosaurs. Here and in other parks in the U.S. and Canada, fossilized flora and…
Episode 27 Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches
Nowhere is nature's artistry more exquisite than in the intricately eroded parks of the Colorado Plateau--from Bryce Canyon, to Arches National Park, to Canyonlands National Park. Seek answers to these…
Episode 28 Zion, Gunnison’s Black Canyon, Capitol Reef
Witness other wonders of canyon erosion on the Colorado Plateau, including the deep and narrow Black Canyon of the Gunnison, as well as The Narrows, a dramatic slot canyon in…
Episode 29 Mesa Verde and Ancient Settlements
Explore parks where geology supported the settlement of people in North America. Begin at the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, cleverly engineered to exploit natural shelter and rock seeps. Then survey…
Episode 30 The Colorado Rocky Mountains
Ascend the heights of the Rocky Mountains, asking how tectonic processes nearly a thousand miles away could possibly have raised this extensive range. Venture to Rocky Mountain National Park, Red…
Episode 31 Montana’s Glacier and the Canadian Rockies
Journey to Glacier National Park, where the glaciers may be disappearing, but the impressive glacier-sculpted terrain remains.
Episode 32 Big Bend on the Rio Grande and Saguaro
Investigate the multitude of geological processes on view at Big Bend National Park in Texas. Here you find signs of continental collisions, volcanic eruptions, dramatic erosion, and other breathtaking events.…
Episode 33 Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, Carlsbad Caverns
Visit underground parks, exploring a tiny portion of the hundreds of miles of mapped passages in Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Consider the similarities and differences…
Episode 34 The Everglades and the Congaree Bottomland
Florida is a limestone-dominated piece of proto-Africa that got stuck to North America. Also study similar terrain at Congaree National Park and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan.
Episode 35 Voyageurs, Isle Royale, the Canadian Shield
Explore the ancient heart of North America--the Canadian Shield--heading north from Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota to Northeast Greenland National Park, the largest, most northerly national park in the world.…
Episode 36 Assembling North America, Park by Park
Conclude by surveying national parks not yet visited in the course, traversing North America on a grand expedition. Along the way, assess the geology of this spectacularly diverse continent. From…

Related videos

Yellowstone: Microcosm of the National Parks
Start your tour of the geological wonders of North America's national parks with Yellowstone, where the breathtaking landscape inspired the idea of a national park. Focus on the processes that produce Yellowstone's many geothermal formations, particularly its geysers.
Mount Saint Helens, Lassen Volcanic, Rainier
Tour Mount Rainier National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park in the Pacific Northwest, which are part of the Cascade Range of active volcanoes that include Mount Saint Helens. Then visit a group of similarly cataclysmic volcanoes in national parks in central Mexico.
Reefs: Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas
Turn to a trio of national parks where corals and other reef creatures are helping create new carbonate rock. Then encounter a massive reef from our planet's past, raised to towering heights at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Volcanoes of Alaska: Katmai and Lake Clark
Travel to Alaska to explore the vast national parks at Katmai and Lake Clark. Katmai was the site of the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption, while Lake Clark is unusual among national parks for having no roads and being accessible only by boat or small plane.
Death Valley and Great Basin: The Rift Zone
Continental rifting has caused huge blocks of land to sink between high mountain belts, producing Death Valley, the lowest, hottest, driest place in North America. Explore this and other national parks and monuments in the Great Basin region.
Voyageurs, Isle Royale, the Canadian Shield
Explore the ancient heart of North America--the Canadian Shield--heading north from Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota to Northeast Greenland National Park, the largest, most northerly national park in the world. En route, stop off at parks on Isle Royale, Baffin Island, and Ellesmere Island.
Crater Lake, Olympic, North Cascades
Learn how seafloor subduction raised a lofty volcano only to obliterate it in a colossal eruption that created Crater Lake in Oregon. Hundreds of miles to the north, tectonic forces upended the imposing mountains of Olympic National Park and formed the high jagged peaks at North Cascades National Park.
Assembling North America, Park by Park
Conclude by surveying national parks not yet visited in the course, traversing North America on a grand expedition. Along the way, assess the geology of this spectacularly diverse continent. From the Appalachians to the Aleutians, the national parks and other protected lands tell a dramatic and unforgettable story.
Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, Carlsbad Caverns
Visit underground parks, exploring a tiny portion of the hundreds of miles of mapped passages in Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Consider the similarities and differences between these caves--two carved by mildly acidic rainwater, the other by dilute sulfuric acid!
Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches
Nowhere is nature's artistry more exquisite than in the intricately eroded parks of the Colorado Plateau--from Bryce Canyon, to Arches National Park, to Canyonlands National Park. Seek answers to these strange, sculpted landforms, asking questions such as: How did more than 2,000 natural arches form in the Arches region?
The Dakota Badlands
Visit Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, and Mount Rushmore National Parks in the Dakotas, beholding the landscape that inspired Theodore Roosevelt to become an ardent conservationist. Learn how the fantastic forms of the badlands are the product of deposition, uplift, and erosion.
Yellowstone—Geysers and Hot Springs
What happens when a hotspot is beneath a continent? The answer is Yellowstone National Park, a wonderland of geysers and hot springs nestled in the gigantic caldera of a supervolcano. Tour the attractions of Yellowstone, and ponder the history and future of the hotspot that fuels it.