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The National Parks

By: Ben Shaw a.k.a. Squanto

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 11 of the 58 U.S. national parks over my travels through the past several years and if there’s one thing I can tell you it’s that they all contain untold beauty in their own various rights.  I have so many stories about these places and memories that will forever be with me.  Whether it be: the amazing (and somewhat crowded) geysers at Yellowstone, the desolate (and sun-drenched) canyons of Capitol Reef, or the high (and very dry) mountains in Guadalupe Mountains, these national parks all have something that makes them very special.

Some folks I’ve ran into have their various issues with the national parks, from overcrowding to the extent of the protections there but, national parks stand out to me for various reasons. It might be that they’ve been set aside from the rest of the world to be protected and treasured.  It could be that I’ve been lucky enough to make some of my best memories in these places.  It may be that they provide a window into a world before people touched it.  I think everyone that goes to a national park has a different reason for loving it, but they all relate back to the same thing…  Our national parks allow us to get back to the basics and enjoy a simpler life. They also show us what an environment not touched by humans looks like in all its rugged, untarnished beauty, and natural glory.

I remember the first friend trip I took, as opposed to a family one, we visited Zion National Park, Utah and Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.  I can still, remember that feeling of awe when we got to the top of Angel’s Landing and sat there staring out across the canyon, three years ago.  The only reminder of the outside world was the winding road down below and the paved trail that we had hiked up on.  These things raised a question to me, “Are these places still truly wild with all that we’ve built in them?” I ask myself this question repeatedly in the many places I have visited and still do to this day.

I remember the wildest places I’ve visited.  In Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, a massive desert isolated us from others by miles and the breath-taking backdrop of the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range stuck out above the sand.  In Capitol Reef, Utah, the closest town to us was 100 miles away. When the sun went down the stars were strewn across the sky clustered by the millions, you could see more than you ever thought existed.  In these moments I answered my question briefly, I knew for just a moment that there are parks that are still truly wild.

I’ve stood on the edge in these places, climbed their tallest peaks, shared adventures with friends that I can never forget and because of these things, these places will forever have a special place in my heart.  As always with places that are special to us, we think about their longevity and continued existence for others to enjoy.

Our national parks aren’t necessarily under assault as some might suggest, but they are going through a state of change.  With more people getting involved in outdoor activities than ever before and more people visiting our national parks each year the Parks Service has a responsibility to make sure that these places remain protected for generations to come.  Whether they do that through increased fees, permit quotas or even shutting down areas of certain parks, it makes you wonder if their various tactics to protect these lands might be hurting them.  Wouldn’t it be helpful in the long run to have more people out there being able to visit these places and getting them to have strong feelings about them so that they might be compelled to join the conservation effort?  Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have high attendance and teach those attendees about the proper outdoors practices (i.e. Leave No Trace) so that those wishing to par-take in the beauty of the outdoors know proper conduct?  These are tough questions, but they’re questions that we need to keep asking to ensure the continued unspoiled beauty of these places, and to make sure our access to them is not minimized.

For me, this is how I protect these places: I continue to ask these questions every day. I’ll continue to try and help ensure the things I got to enjoy in the past are there for future generations to do the same.  I’ll keep dipping my toes in new waters, suffering through the dry mountain heat to get to the summit and hiking for days on end to find the hidden beauty in the places I visit.  Most of all, I’ll continue to make new memories that inspire me to continue trying to protect these places, so others can enjoy them the way I did.