“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
-Wallace Stegner, 1983
When I was nine years old we took an epic road trip. In roughly five weeks we travelled, in our Dodge Caravan, from Minnesota through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada and back. In that trip we went through several national parks including Rocky Mountain National Park:
I realize in the photograph of my family at RMNP, I, the smallest one, appear somewhat unimpressed. However, I don’t think this snapshot quite accurately reflects the impression that visiting these National Parks left upon me. I’ve lived in Colorado for just over a year now and still every time I even pass the sign for the park while driving on the freeway I can’t help but smile. I can’t believe how easily I can access such a majestic place. In fact, the first time R and I went to Rocky Mountain National Park after moving to Denver, I was terribly giddy with excitement. Hiking through the snowy mountains to one scenic overlook after another, I felt almost nine years old again (to be clear, I was much happier at the age of nine than you are led to believe from the photograph above.) The more parks that I visit, the more I feel this system is one of the greatest accomplishments of our government. There are four national parks in Colorado and this past weekend I completed the circuit with a weekend in the Great Sand Dunes. It’s a bit late in the season and there isn’t a whole lot open around there this time of year. We got up early on Sunday morning to watch the sunrise on the dunes and we had the entire place to ourselves. Well, just us, a herd of elk and handful of deer. It was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in nature.
Each national park here offers a landscape and experience that is entirely unique. I consider myself quite lucky to have these spaces in my own backyard.
I’m grateful for the many road trips we took as a kid and for the role our visits to the national park system played in instilling a deep appreciation for the outdoors and its preservation. My folks are coming out to visit at some point next year and we’ve got plans to make the rounds of the national parks in Colorado. I’m excited to be able check a few new parks off their list — and hopefully, I can get an updated snapshot with them — one that more accurately reflects my enthusiasm and appreciation.