My Love Affair with the National Parks

It seemed appropriate to be drinking in the grandeur of Mt. Rainier on the 4th of July from the national park’s Sunrise Visitor Center.

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I visited my first National Park when I was 8. On a summer car trip, our family traveled up the California coast, through the coast redwoods (which 18 years later became Redwoods National Park in 1968) and on to Crater Lake National Park. At the time I didn’t realize that it was the fifth oldest national park, but I did remember the amazing deep blue lake sitting in the crater of an old volcano (not apparent from faded black and white photo)

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Crater Lake – 1950 photo

– and was thrilled by my first opportunity to throw a snowball.

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. It includes National Historic Parks and Sites (128), National Monuments (83), Wild and Scenic Rivers (10), National Seashores (10), National Military Parks (9), National Preserves (19) and National Recreation Areas (18), as well as National Parks (59). While I have had the opportunity to visit many properties in each of the designations, it is the National Parks that captivate me.

In 1955 our family visited Yosemite National Park while camping nearby. Unfortunately, what I remember were all of the crowds.

In 1957 between my sophomore and junior years in high school, our family took an almost three-week trip where we visited Zion, Bryce, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. We drove through Zion and I gazed at the sandstone cliffs, but didn’t really have the opportunity to appreciate its grandeur. Dad wanted to make it to Logan, UT by late afternoon, so we only stopped in Bryce Canyon National Park for an hour or so. I was mesmerized by the red-rock hoodoos that populated the canyon. I hoped to return some day.

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Bryce Canyon

It would be 50 years before I had the opportunity to visit again. On one of our treks from Albuquerque to Ogden, UT so Breanne could visit her Dad and grandparents, we stayed overnight just outside Zion, Utah’s first national park

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Visitor Center – Zion NP

and took a narrated tram ride through the main canyon before heading to Bryce Canyon National Park.  As the road wound up to the plateau the sandstone began to turn from beige to burnt orange – just as I had remembered.

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Bryce Canyon NP

On our family vacation, we pulled a travel trailer and when we arrived at Grand Tetons National Park, we parked it in the newly opened campground with hook-ups at Coulter Bay. Each morning as we emerged from the trailer, the sun hit the rugged, snow-covered peaks of the Teton Range that rose up just beyond Jackson Lake. Our days were filled with ranger-led walks and hikes into the lower reaches of the Tetons. The high mountain valleys, wildlife and glacier-carved lakes captured my soul.

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Peaks of Teton Range – NPS photo

The Grand Tetons was the main event of this trip and we only drove into Yellowstone National Park for a day trip to see Old Faithful, some of the mud pots and bears holding up traffic along the side of the road.

I would return to Yellowstone many times before having the opportunity to visit Grand Tetons National Park again.

In 1966, my husband, his mother and I pulled into Yellowstone National Park in our camper on Labor Day and got in the line of cars that moved slowly through the park. Magically, by the end of the day, almost all of the tourists had left the park and we were the only people camping at Fishing Bridge. In the early evening before the sun dipped behind the mountains, we were treated to a family of moose that emerged from the woods.

By 1984, I had remarried and we joined his parents, siblings and their children for a family reunion in Yellowstone. It was where Gary’s family vacationed every summer while he was growing up. We stayed in a cabin near Canyon Lodge and each day the twelve of us piled into our cars to explore the park, which usually amounted to another view of Yellowstone Falls.

Our family made several other trips to Yellowstone on visits to Ogden, UT and stayed in different areas of the park.

I returned to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks with Breanne in 2005. We had compatible goals at the Grand Tetons. She wanted to go fishing and I wanted to see birds.

We stayed for three days in a cabin near Jenny Lake in late June where an American Robin started serenading us very early each morning. While hiking around the back side of the lake looking for a good fishing spot, I stopped when I heard tapping – and there was a Black-backed Woodpecker excavating for insects in a burned tree. We dined on elk burgers in one of the restaurants and enjoyed watching the moose that came up behind Jenny Lake Lodge each evening.

On the road into Yellowstone National Park, we stopped to admire a large herd of bison and learned that there are around 4,000 that live in the park. We stayed in a cabin near Canyon Lodge. At Yellowstone Lake we joined a ranger walk where we learned that the almost 400 feet deep caldera that forms the basin for the lake is still thermally active.

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Yellowstone Lake – NPS photo

We walked up to a viewing area for Yellowstone Falls,

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Breanne at Yellowstone Falls

and at Old Faithful we learned that new growth was sprouting from the seeds in the cones that had been activated by the fire that swept across the area in 1988.

On a trip to New Mexico in 1982 Gary and I stopped at Mesa Verde National Park, where three-year old Breanne fearlessly climbed the ladders to peer into the cliff dwellings.

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Breanne and I – Mesa Verde NP

During the 20 years I lived in Washington State, I had the opportunity to visit Olympic National Park’s varied habitats, including the rain forest, areas along the coast,

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Kalaloc Beach – NPS photo

and Hurricane Ridge,

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Hurricane Ridge – NPS photo

as well as the more elusively defined North Cascade National Park.

I have only visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon once – in the late 60’s. As we drove along AZ-60 north of Flagstaff, I remember being shocked at all of the real estate development signs along the highway. We only spent a few hours there.

I had heard that the north rim was less crowded and equally as scenic – and was not disappointed. I made my first visit in 2006 on our way to Zion NP and then returned in 2009 with my friend Donna when we were able to spend three days exploring various parts of the park along the north rim.

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North Rim – Grand Canyon

My son BJ and daughter-in-law Cori and I visited Santa Cruz Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park in November 2004. Our guide explained that the geographical isolation has caused a similar phenomenon for a number of wildlife species like the Galapagos Islands. While is Island Scrub Jay was my target bird for the day, I have since learned that a number of other bird species seem to have characteristics that may slate them for being separate species one of these days.

As we traversed over the hills, our guide pointed out evidence of feral pig activity that was destroying the landscape. Most of our group wanted to travel at a faster pace than we did and we told them to go ahead. While we were sitting on a rock overlooking the bay below, an Island Scrub Jay popped into view and an Osprey kept its eye on the ocean for fish.

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Osprey – Santa Cruz Island

During my visit to Alaska in 2007, I had the opportunity to visit three of that’s state’s national parks – Wrangell-St. Elias and Kenai Fjords.

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Trail to glacier showing how far it has retreated since 1917

One of the most unique and memorable is Everglades National Park.

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Limpkin – Everglades NP

I have had the opportunity of visiting twice. I am grateful to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who through her editorial writing at the Miami Herald – and later her book The Everglades: River of Grass, published in 1947, for rallying the public and politicians to save this valuable resource and resulted in the establishment of the Everglades National Park the same year her book was published.

It was a drenching rainstorm preventing me from birding at the Rattlesnake Springs unit of Carlsbad Caverns National Park that led me to finally visit caverns themselves. Even though I had seen pictures of visitors at the caverns, I’m sure that my claustrophobic experience spelunking in the Mojave Desert that made me reluctant to initiate a visit. After walking through the massive cavern and viewing the magnificent formations, I am glad I took the plunge.

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Carlsbad Caverns

The often-shrouded 14,411-foot Mount Rainier is a wonderful symbol for my love affair with our national parks. Established as Mount Rainier Forest Reserve in 1899, John Muir advocated in 1901 that it “should be made a national park and guarded while yet its bloom is on; for if in the making of the West Nature had what we call parks in mind, -places for rest, inspiration, and prayers, -this Rainier region must surely be one of them.”

On August 25, 1916, Congress passed the Organic Act and the National Park Service was born to “conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

While I visited the various areas of the park many times during the years I lived in Washington State,

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Mount Rainier – 1979

I had not been back since I moved to New Mexico in 1994. It seemed a fitting year for me to visit again.

After spending the night in Packwood just outside the southern park boundary, I drove through the iconic gate

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and wound my way through thick clouds and drizzle that made it difficult to see the road at times

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up to the shrouded Paradise Visitor Center area. In the restroom I waited in line with a number of young women who were about to start a guided climb of the peak.

“You’re crazy,” I said to the woman in front of me. I could barely see the restrooms from where my car was parked – and she was going to climb up the snowy slopes to the top of Mount Rainier!

“My family said that I was either crazy or brave,” she laughed.

I envied their youth and vigor.

I could hardly see 50 feet in front of me as I trudged up the first part of the Skyline Trail. I could hear the rattling song of Chipping Sparrows near the edge of the trail, the haunting song of a Varied Thrush and the hoarse call of a Clark’s Nutcracker emanating through the mist.

“What’s that?” someone behind me asked.

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Marmot

I was looking down to make sure I didn’t trip in the fog, but stopped and looked up. A Marmot was sitting on a railing, and through the clouds looked like it had been carved of wood.

And then it twitched and looked the other way. It was real – and the first time I had seen one.

I stopped a short distance away where a small waterfall tumbled under the trail. The clouds were getting denser up ahead, so it was a good time to turn around.

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Before heading on my way, I stopped by the iconic Paradise Lodge.

I was hoping that by time I reached the turn-off to the Sunrise side of Mount Rainier the clouds would begin to lift – and they did. The Sunrise side of the mountain lived up to its reputation. As I hiked up the hill behind the Sunrise Visitor Center at Mt. Rainier National Park,

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I thought about the 100th anniversary of the National Parks and my own love affair with them.

The Tahoma News, the newspaper of Mount Rainier National Park challenged visitors. “A century ago the National Park Service and individual national parks were founded through individual empowerment, community passion, and organizational crusades. The future of Mount Rainier National Park depends on commitments and connections with people – volunteers, researchers, laborers, managers, and you.”

My hope is that generations to come will also have a love affair with our national parks and will commit to being part of the next 100 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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