October is the heart of autumn, when many Americans enjoy changing leaves, pumpkins, hayrides, and corn mazes.

To help you make the most of this month, here is some information on seasonal activities and holiday celebrations you won’t want to miss. Plus, get an inside look at a special national park in California.

Carve a pumpkin

If September is the month for picking apples, then October is the time for carving pumpkins! A type of squash, these round, orange fruits are a popular Halloween decoration. They come in all sizes and can be found just about anywhere in America. Head to a pumpkin patch nearby and choose the perfect one.

Once you’ve made your pick, it’s time to start carving! Carefully cut a circular "lid" around the stem of the pumpkin, then scrape out the insides. Then carve a design into your pumpkin. It can look scary, funny, beautiful – anything you want! Here are some creative ideas to get you started. When your masterpiece is finished, put it somewhere to be noticed: the windowsill, front steps, anywhere! Then at night, carefully place a small light or a burning candle inside your pumpkin to turn it into a glowing jack-o'-lantern.

Explore a California treasure – Joshua Tree National Park

At first glance, Joshua Tree National Park seems bleak and lonely. But with a closer look, you’ll see that these desert lands in southeastern California are home to 52 mammals, more than 250 birds, and more than 750 plants.

One of these plants – the Joshua tree – plays a big role in the desert ecosystem. It provides shelter for many lizards, birds, and insects. The Native Americans who once lived here used its leaves to make sandals and baskets, and they also ate its seeds. According to legend, in the 19th century, Mormon people were guided through the desert by the branches of these trees, and so the Mormons named them after the biblical figure Joshua.

There’s much more to learn at Joshua Tree National Park, and even more to do. If you plan a trip, make time for rock climbing, stargazing, camping, hiking, or birding. Adventure is waiting in the California desert!

Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus Day marks the discovery of America. In 1492, famous Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain with three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He was looking for a shorter route to Asia. Instead, on October 12, 1492, he found the New World: the Americas. He landed on an island and named it “San Salvador.” Today, it’s known as one of the islands in the Bahamas.

For Christopher Columbus and his crew, the new world offered new land, new opportunities, and new people: Native Americans.

We honor Columbus’ achievement on the second Monday of October. This year, Columbus Day falls on October 14. Many communities host parades, like this one in New York City. However, not all of America celebrates this holiday. Columbus’s discovery brought Europeans to the Americas, but it also destroyed many Native American homes and tribes. Because of this, states like California, Oregon, Nevada, and Hawaii do not celebrate this holiday. In fact, some communities have now changed the name of the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day. But either way you look at it, America wouldn’t be what it is today without Christopher Columbus.

Make a Difference Day

Do you enjoy taking the time to give back to your community? Whether you tutor a student, coach a team or participate in a fundraising event, volunteering on Make A Difference Day is a great way to meet new people and rack up some volunteering hours.

For more than two decades, Make A Difference Day has been celebrated annually on the fourth Saturday in October. This national event in the United States connects volunteers with opportunities to serve, increases the strength of communities, and promotes civic engagement. Visit United Way to find volunteer opportunities in a location near you.