Nature is awesome, right?

Fresh air, picturesque sights, local flora and fauna — it's all pretty great, but we don't give nearly enough credit to the people who keep it that way. Pardon the pun, but nature just doesn't come, uh, naturally.

100 years ago, the U.S. National Park Service was formed and tasked with conserving "America the Beautiful." They've been doing a pretty bang-up job of it ever since.


Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

In honor of the agency's 100th anniversary, here's a list of 15 national parks (and a national seashore) you'll want to add to your bucket list.

1. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Warm weather? Check (it's Hawaii, after all). Beaches? Check. THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS TWO ACTIVE VOLCANOES? Check.

Image by jshyun/Flickr.

2. Glacier National Park

Here's one you may want to check out sooner rather than later. Why? Well, the park used to be home to somewhere around 150 glaciers! Now? There are just 25. In the future, there may be none. To paraphrase "Total Recall," get your ass to Montana.

Image by Andrew Kalat/Flickr.

3. Channel Islands National Park

This park is made up of five of the eight Channel Islands off the California coast. Why just five of eight? Well, you know how in high school, there'd be kids who were like, "You can't sit with us!" at lunch and then you'd silently cry in the bathroom and eat your lunch alone in the auditorium? (OK, those last few parts are probably just me...) It's my guess that it's something like that, but I'm probably wrong. But in addition to that, there are beautiful beaches, stunning rock formations, and warm weather.

Image by David Wan/Flickr.

4. Everglades National Park

If you're ever in the mood to see an alligator up close (but hopefully not too close), Everglades National Park is a great place to do it. The swampy Florida ecosystem is unique, and not exactly what you'd find in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, or wherever it is you, dear reader, are from.

Image by Diana Robinson/Flickr.

5. Zion National Park

Combining forests with epic rock formations, Zion National Park is a must-see stop should you be traveling through southern Utah.

Image by Zion National Park/Flickr.

6. Cape Cod National Seashore

What makes this eastern Massachusetts seascape so special? Well, it happens to be home to Marconi Station (if you happened to read that as "macaroni station," you are not alone), the site of the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission, and that's just way cool. It's known for its bike trails along with its views of Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Image by Jasperdo/Flickr.

7. North Cascades National Park

I'm going to be honest: I put this on the list simply because it's home to the Picket mountain range. What's so interesting about that, you ask? The names of the mountains within: Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, Poltergeist Pinnacle, Mount Terror, Ghost Peak, and Phantom Peak! POLTERGEIST FREAKIN' PINNACLE? That sounds like a badass roller coaster, and now I want to ride.

Image by Rachel Samanyi/Flickr.

8. Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park in Alaska is home to Denali (obviously), the highest mountain in North America. It's also home to a little bit of everything else: forests, glaciers, rock formations, mountains. Plus, it's absolutely gorgeous.

Image by Denali National Park/Flickr.

9. Grand Canyon National Park

It's the Grand freakin' Canyon. NEXT!

Image by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr.

10. Arches National Park

As its name would suggest, Arches National Park is home to a number of arch-shaped rock formations. The coolest thing, though, is probably Balanced Rock, a formation that includes an upper portion "balancing" on the lower. If you visit, please do not throw rocks at Balanced Rock in hopes of toppling it. Resist the urge!

Image by Arches National Park/Flickr (cropped).

11. Yosemite National Park

If you're a fan of giant sequoia trees, this is the park for you. In addition to some glorious rock formations, there are three groves of ancient sequoia trees in Yosemite. With its high granite cliffs, the park provides some of the most amazing views you'll see anywhere on Earth.

Image by Matt Savener/Upworthy.

12. Yellowstone National Park

This is the O.G. of national parks, going way back to 1872. It's home to some kickass geysers (what up, Old Faithful), hot springs, incredible wildlife, and so much more. You've heard of it ... now get with it and visit!

Image by Yellowstone National Park/Flickr.

13. Acadia National Park

Here's one very special reason to visit Acadia: the sunrise. Cadillac Mountain is located within the Maine park, and it's the first place in the United States where you can see the sun rise each morning. How awesome is that?

Image by TravelUSA/Flickr.

14. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is a newbie to the National Park System (it was added in 2013), but it still brings the heat when it comes to dishing out that national park goodness. Mountains? Got 'em. Trees? Yep. What makes it special, though? Well, it's home to the success story of the almost-extinct but slowly recovering California condors. Victory!

Image by Stanislav Sedov/Flickr.

15. Joshua Tree National Park

This desert national park is found in Southern California. Named after the Joshua tree (no, not the U2 album), it's a pretty cool change of pace from your usual national park experience.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

So happy birthday, National Park Service! You're looking good for a centenarian! Here's to your continued success!

Interested in visiting a nearby national park? Check out the list of free days at parks around the country.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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