Friday, August 26, 2016

Happy Birthday, National Parks! (Part One)

I totally missed the National Park Service Centennial yesterday— whoops! Well, Happy Centennial to our national parks a day late, and also Congratulations to all the Park Service people who keep these national treasures up and running!

I’m grateful that I’ve gotten a chance to visit 12 national parks in my lifetime (seven of those while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail), and hope to visit many more in the future. I’m proud that America has worked together to preserve these areas for generations to come. In honor of the centennial, here’s a run-down of the parks I’ve visited and why I love them:

Great Smoky Mountains, every year for most of my life. On my family’s yearly vacations to visit my grandparents in North Carolina, the Smokies were our go-to camping spot. We’d always camp by a creek so us kids could try to catch minnows, skip rocks, and cool off after a long day of hiking to waterfalls. At night, storms would blow through, rattling our tent, and we’d tell goofy stories to entertain ourselves. Some of my fondest childhood memories are here.

I don't really have any good photos of them, though...

Everglades, 2011. (I forgot to put this in my first draft!) I had the privilege of visiting the Everglades both in the daytime and at night, which are experiences I’ll never forget. Walking along the trail, I watched ‘gators strewn across the grass like stone statues. Herons stalked in the shallows, cormorants perched on the railings, and I looked out at the grasses standing knee-deep in clear water. Also, I spotted a Purple Gallinule, which had been on my bucket list since I was a kid. At nighttime, we shone our flashlights on alligators drifting beneath the boardwalk, then hiked through the forest, watching weird green fireflies. Simply incredible.  

Zion Canyon, 2011. My couchsurfing/HelpX hosts in Salt Lake City took me to Zion while I was staying with them— I had dreamed of visiting since I was a kid, and the landscape was unlike anything I’d ever seen! I hiked to the top of Angels Landing despite my fear of heights, which was an accomplishment I’m still proud of.

Looking off the edge of the cliff at Angels Landing

Grand Canyon, 2011. The Grand Canyon was everything I hoped it would be— vast beyond comprehension, beautiful beyond description, alien and incomparable. I couchsurfed with a host who had an RV, and we spent three days hiking, crashing a party for Canyon employees, and watching the sun set and rise over the North Rim. Zach and I hope to hike to the bottom someday.

Petrified Forest, 2011 and 2012. This eerie desert landscape, once a swamp full of trees, has a haunting feel to it that is both unsettling and fascinating. Located roughly in the middle of nowhere, this park is dazzling both in the details (fragments of petrified wood, huge cross-sections of logs scattered across the sand) and the landscape (the painted desert is exactly what it sounds like). Definitely worth the stop if you’re in the area.

Zach and I hiked this path that snakes through "the pyramids."

Redwood, 2012. Zach and I visited here together, hiking a loop through these ancient, impossibly huge trees and along the coast. Near the end it got dark, and I remember a breathless speed-walk of the last mile or two, winding our way through the moss-drenched forest. (I’m honestly not sure if we were on state park or national park territory for that particular hike, but close enough!)

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the seven we hiked through on the PCT!


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