Visiting American National Parks

"This was the most heartening of my discoveries: that mill towns fester in one spot while the earth is green around them. The prairies will not be tamed. The hills will not be blasted quite away. The rivers will remain as the first men knew them-the long-browed men whose pipes and spears are locked in caves behind stalagmites. They will reflect our stars. They will mirror our bridges. They will be swift until the last ice." 
~ Ward Dorrance

The United States of America is a very big country. This is, of course, stating the obvious, but think about it: this nation is large enough to encompass the 110° of Death Valley in California and the -40° of International Falls, Minnesota-the rain-forest humidity of Florida and the nosebleed-dry air of Idaho-the gentle green farmland of Ohio and the red deserts of New Mexico-the majestic Rocky Mountains and the flat farmland of Nebraska...

America's national parks are national treasures. Beautiful and irreplaceable land is preserved for all of us, and for generations to come. So why visit the parks, as often and as many as you can?

First, national parks give us an awareness of something much bigger than ourselves. Experiencing firsthand the beauty and the vastness of nature makes us realize that we humans are both small and great. We are tiny beside towering mountain peaks, ancient sequoias, and deep canyons, yet we are gifted with the ability to appreciate these things. We are lifted out of our daily routine, our limited and separate lives, and transported into a more eternal perspective. We exclaim with wonder that such a place exists. We paint pictures and write poetry and music to try to capture it. This place was here a million years ago, however different it appeared then. It changed and grew and evolved, but it's still here and will outlast us and our children and grandchildren. There's comfort-and awe-in that.

The parks are a kind of time travel. We can travel back thousands of years in geological time, seeing each layer of rock and fossil and imagining the carving and shaping of the land. We travel back five hundred years in human history, picturing the Native Americans living in harmony with the land; or back a hundred years, witnessing the first leaders who had the vision to set aside this parkland for future generations.

National parkland provides a sense of belonging: This is our land, our beautiful country, part of each of us and all of us. And part, too, of the world beyond, because we love to share these treasures with our world neighbors. When you visit you will hear Japanese and German and Spanish and Chinese and French and Dutch spoken, and other languages you can't place. You'll smile at these other visitors with warmth and pride, happy that they too are enjoying this great land of ours.

So, go. Save your change, your dollars, and your vacation time until you can travel to a national park. Some are hundreds of miles away from where you live, but there may be one practically in your backyard, or just a state or two away.

Drive, if you can, so you can see all the land in between, all the gradually changing scenery. Take your time, and savor the beauty and the goodness that is America.