America’s National Parks: Have You Visited Any?

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 8th Aug 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>National Parks

Have you visited one of the national parks or monuments near you lately? No? Stay home. Why not visit one?. They're too beautiful and too numerous to miss!

America’s National Parks: Have You Visited Any?

My husband and I have just completed watching the fantastic Ken Burns PBS series regarding the origin of America’s national park system, and so I find the topic fresh in my mind. It also happens to be one which is dear to my heart since I love to travel, not that I get to do it as much as I’d like. Money, you know, or lack thereof.

Watching the memorable series I became transfixed with the images peacefully passing before me and caught up in the usual struggle between the conservationists like John Muir and the all too innumerable industrial poachers on the land which he and others like him so loved. It’s a struggle we still observe being waged today. And as I watched, I began to recount my own growth in this area, and how I came into observing America’s National Park System.

I grew up in Michigan, and I barely set foot outside of it until my college years. When I did begin to wander off during spring break with friends of mine, while many college kids were heading to Florida we chose instead to head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. As an old Boy Scout, camping was second nature to me, but camping in the mountains was new. Being a flatlander I was in awe of places like Clingman’s Dome and Mt. Mitchell. I’d never seen mountains almost 7,000 feet tall! Over the next few years, we passed through the Smoky Mountains and the national park there several times and stayed a time or two more. Of course, we made the obligatory trip to Florida also!

On one of those excursions back to Michigan we ventured home by way of western Kentucky and added Mammoth Cave National Park to our charm bracelet of national parks. Having just completed Geology class it was a great learning experience to be able to witness firsthand what stalactites looked like and actually touch the stalagmites which grew up from the floor all around us as we walked along our darkened path through a huge cavern.

On one of these trips to the Smokies we took a far easterly route south. We steered our route through Shenandoah National Park in central Virginia and though we didn’t stop and really didn’t do anything, we just admired the great peaceful beauty of the area. Charm number three.

That proved to be it for me and national parks for many years. Life got in the way as life does raising a family. Eventually, when our son was twelve years old my wife and I took off for a long Labor Day weekend of camping along the Mississippi River during which we visited Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. But we worked our way downriver to St. Louis and the Gateway Arch where we found a curious thing, something which we didn’t realize there. While it’s not a national park, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial which includes the Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion, a huge museum underneath the arch are all administered by the National Park Service. A truly wise use of our tax dollars. Charm number four.

For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary my wife and I drove across the northern tier of states to Maine and stayed in Bar Harbor, but the highlight of the trip was our drive around Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. This park was featured in the Ken Burns PBS series as being the first national park east of the Mississippi River. Like so many of the national parks in the early days, it took a lot of land purchasing, handshaking, letter writing, lobbying, and general cajoling for Acadia to become a national park. Gazing at the unique Maine vistas, the rocky coastline, Bass Harbor Lighthouse, looking down from the high points at folks out clamming, one cannot imagine this place not being a national park. Charm number five.

After my retirement from teaching school and relocation to Tucson, Arizona we were nestled very comfortably right between both units of Saguaro National Park (there are two units, East and West). The East Unit is located in the Rincon Mountains and the West Unit in the Tucson Mountains. Because of the different character of the mountains, there is a somewhat different character to each park unit which is great. Living in town I was able to spend a lot of time visiting both units much to my eternal delight. Spring is a great time to go, especially in April when the cacti are in bloom. The desert comes to life with unimaginable vivid color and life. Charm number six.

There would be no more national parks for me until after I dealt with my personal issues, coming out of the closet, splitting from my wife, etc. It all worked itself out.

Eventually after time passed, and I became involved with the man who would become my husband, we took a lengthy drive to visit his family’s old ranch homestead in southwestern Colorado, and this took us in the vicinity of what has perhaps become my favorite national park, Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde was featured in the Ken Burns PBS special as being the first national park preserved specifically for its historical preservation value due to its ancient cliff dwelling artifacts. Yes, it’s a beautiful area, but when one walks the area among the cliff dwellings inhabited by the ancients, the feeling is peaceful to the point of not needing my blood pressure medicine. The air wreaks of the divine. Mesa Verde just has to be one of those thin places . . . There’s no other way to put it. Charm number seven.

On our way home during this trip we passed through the Petrified Forest National Park which also includes within its boundaries the Painted Desert both of these being in Arizona, a state rich in nature’s beautiful bounty. These happened to be another one of John Muir’s pet projects and were saved from being ruined way back when by his lobbying efforts. Traveling through and gazing at the amazing amount of petrified logs, I cannot imagine how many more there must have been before this indefatigable man intervened and stopped the mayhem on behalf of all posterity. Petrified wood tabletops indeed! Can you imagine? Charm number eight.

We had run out of time and money, and so we never did make it to Grand Canyon National Park. So close and yet so far. And still I have not seen it. That along with Yellowstone National Park top my Bucket List. Actually where we live in Colorado now, we’re only a couple hours from Rocky Mountain National Park, so perhaps next year we’ll add that charm. That’s doable. We’ve got to do what we can afford. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking at all the pictures and videos.

At present, since Yellowstone National Park became the first of its kind ever in the world in 1872 and the National Park Service was formed in 1916, America now counts 59 national parks, 78 national monuments, 25 national military parks, and numerous other national memorials, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, preserves and reserves, and more, totaling 401 designations in all.

But what about you? Have you seen any of these absolutely magical and transcendent places? If not, what’s keeping you?


National Parks, Travel, Travel Desination, United States

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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