Mythical Parks of the American West
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Located on the North American continent, the United States of America comprises 48 adjoining states which are bordered to the north by Canada and to the south by Mexico. The 49th state of the USA is Alaska, a huge wilderness territory which lies to the northwest of Canada. Taken as a whole, the continental USA has a land area of approximately 9 and a half million square kilometres (3 and a half million square miles). The 50th state of the USA, Hawaii, lies 4000 kilometres (2500 miles) off the country's western coast, in the middle of the Pacific. Across the length and breadth of this huge country, there is every type of landscape imaginable, from snowy wastes to burning desert and from ocean beaches to rugged mountain peaks. The biggest mountain range in the USA is the Rockies, which forms the continental divide, extending 4800 kilometres (3000 miles) from northern Mexico, through the USA and Canada into Alaska. Further west, close to the Pacific Ocean and on the border between California and Nevada, the Sierra Nevada is the second most important mountain group in the USA.
Because the USA is so extensive east to west, it has a great range of different time zones. During the daylight-saving period of April to October, the time in Alaska is GMT – 8 hours, for instance. In California, the time is GMT – 7 hours. In Wyoming, the time is GMT – 6 hours. And, for reference, in the most easterly states, which include New York, the time is GMT – 4 hours.
The United States does not have an official language; however, the majority of the population speaks English as a native language (some 82%). The variety of English spoken in the United States is known as American English; together with Canadian English it makes up the group of dialects known as North American English. Spanish is the second most common language in the country, and is spoken by over 12% of the population. The United States holds the world's fifth largest Spanish-speaking population, outnumbered only by Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia.
The United States has varied weather conditions, and the best time to visit depends both upon the location and the season. Spring (March, April, May) and autumn (September and October) are generally cooler. Summer months - June, July, and August - are generally hot regardless of the region, and winter temperatures (November-February) can vary substantially depending upon the part of the US you are visiting. The southern part of the country tends to be warmer in the winter than the north. The general climate of the continental US is temperate, but keep in mind that Hawaii is tropical and Alaska is arctic.
The unit of currency in USA is the US dollar. For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com www.xe.com US dollars can be easily obtained outside the country. Sterling and Euros are easily exchanged in the USA. Credit cards can be used widely and you will also be able to obtain currency at cash machines (ATM’s) at larger banks in the usual way.
Citizens of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland etc. do not need a visa for a stay of up to 90 days in the United States of America. You do, however need an onward airticket and a machine-readable passport. A British passport is machine readable when there are two lines of letters, numbers and chevrons (>>>>>) printed across the long edge of the personal information page (the page with photograph and personal details).
From January 12th 2009 travellers to the US, exempt from US visa requirements (US Visa Waiver Programme), in addition to having a machine-readable passport must also use the new US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). This is an online electronic travel authorisation and this process must be completed before boarding a US bound aircraft. Please visit the ESTA website for further details.
If you are travelling to the US from a country that is not part of the US Visa Waiver Programme please contact your nearest US Consulate for full details regarding the visa application process.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. For the USA and Canada, in general, you do not require any vaccinations other than standard travel jabs (Polio, Tetanus, and Hepatitus A etc). A very good online resource is the NHS travel website at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
Lonely Planet – Hiking in the USA.
Lonely Planet. USA.
Insight Guide. US National Parks (West).
National Parks of the United States (National Geographic).
Fodor Guide Series. California, Arizona, Utah.
The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite National Park. Steven P. Medley.
The Yosemite Handbook. An Insider's Guide to the Park by Susan Frank, et al.
Alaska’s Parklands. Nancy Lange Simmerman.
Climbing in North America. Chris Jones. (Historical).
Organisation of an Alaskan Expedition. Boyd Everett.
Alaska’s Mountain Ranges. George Wuerthner.
“Alaska Ascents”- Bill Sherwonit. (Great short stories on historical Alaska ascents).
Delorme Mapping have Atlas and Gazeteer map books for each of the states we visit.
Lonely Planet - www.lonelyplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com