25 August 2011


On this day in 1916, the U.S. National Park Service was created. It currently oversees 58 designated national parks, as well as an array of military and historical parks, memorials, monuments, recreation areas, wild and scenic rivers, trails, lakeshores and seashores. The world's first national park, Yellowstone NP, was established in 1872, preceding the NPS by 44 years.

Of those 58 parks, I have visited a mere 21. Two parks hold high spiritual value for me ~ Glacier NP in Montana, and Grand Canyon NP in Arizona. I grew up on the northern prairie, close enough to the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian Border that Glacier was virtually in my back yard. I could not begin to count the number of individual, family, and Boy Scout outings into Glacier during my childhood ~ the most memorable being a week-long, 50-mile hike through the back country, away from tourists, roads, civilization. We packed our food and gear in the low-tech manner prevalent in 1962, saw an amazing variety of wildlife and alpine scenery, and created indelible memories vivid to this day.

After my military service, I moved to Arizona, a six-hour drive south of the Grand Canyon. I've visited probably half a dozen times, and that crenellated, stratified magnificence has never ceased to leave me breathless. One can stand on the south rim and clearly see the north rim ten miles distant, or (at the right overlook) spy the Colorado River winding a vertical mile below. It is an experience not to be missed in one's lifetime.

Each of our nation's national parks has its own story, its own spectacle, its own mystery. As with so much else in nature, the main threat to the parks is that we may love them to death. They have become so heavily visited that traffic jams are common, and lodgings must sometimes be booked years in advance. To protect their natural value, it may someday become necessary to limit the number of visitors per day, based on a reservation system. Until that time comes, check out the list of national parks, and make it a priority to see one, or two, or twenty.

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