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Tag Archives: National Parks


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.

Road Trippin’

Road Trippin’
Written by: Louie Knolle

If there is one thing in my life that I am proud of, it is that I’ve stood with my toes in the Atlantic in Maine, danced in the splashing, roaring waves of the Pacific in Washington, endured arctic gusts atop some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, and never once have I ridden on an airplane.

Whether it is by necessity or by choice, the road is still the supreme way of travel.  Painted with pictures of gridlocked bumper to bumper traffic, seemingly endless fields of corn, and the ever feared seldom cleaned gas station bathrooms, driving does not have a positive image when it comes to traveling long distances.  But nothing compares to witnessing first hand literally every mile of your journey.  You aren’t plugged into your laptop or smartphone using airplane supplied wifi, there’s no in-flight movie, no attendants to assist at the first signs of discomfort.  In just the past four years alone, I have logged over 28,000 miles of road time driving to the many adventures I have been fortunate to experience.Roadtrip pic 2

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to invoke some anti-air travel movement and inspire a horde of tramping cross-country traveling troubadours armed to the teeth with road maps and mix CDs (as awesome as that would be), but simply making the recommendation to take the opportunity to travel via road if you are given the chance. You will not regret it. The people you meet, the time spent with friends and family, the spur of the moment road side attractions, witnessing people of other cultures out living the same dream, even the discovery of just how resilient you can be when you feel that urge to go in the middle of nowhere and the closest rest stop is still over 50 miles away. I am in no way a doctor, expert, professional travel guide, or anything of the like, I just know what I love. And I love the road.

Few realize these days simply how large our country is. In this “golden” age of near instantaneous communication from anywhere across the globe, it is easy to underestimate just how much country lies in a 3,000 mile span. Sure you can send a text to a friend in California asking how he is and he receives it a mere few seconds later, but to physically arrive there in person? In a modern automotive vehicle, you’re looking at a solid 36 hour drive from our neck of the woods depending on where in Cali they are located. It is in travelling with friends from Europe that I have realized just how alien a concept it is to them that one can drive for 2 straight days and remain in the same country. In their homelands, usually it would take less than half a day to traverse their nations’ borders. I remember in particular the reaction my French friend had when after arriving to Glacier National Park from a 27 hour drive, he was in disbelief having learned it was still another 12 hours or so until we would have actually been on the Pacific Coast. On my last trip in particular, while journeying more than 8,500 miles with 2 friends we encountered expansive grasslands, alpine tundra, arid desert, alpine forest, coastal bluffs, high plains desert, rain forest (yeah you heard me, go to Washington and see for yourself), and whatever you want to call the awesome scenery of the Badlands in South Dakota. All in all, the United States is huge and you should see as much of it as humanly possible while you are able.

Roadtrip pic 3One thing that remains is, how does one prepare for a road trip? The two polar opposite ends of the spectrum are ruthless planning and scrupulously following your itinerary to the “T”, and choosing to go the Bohemian route and go wherever your heart leads you. I usually shoot for a place in the middle with emphasis on freelancing as we go. For example with my most recent trip out west, the plan was easy: Drive to Washington by whatsoever routes we chose each day and arrive back in Cincinnati three weeks later.  By means of car camping and crashing on friends and families’ couches along the way, we spent no more than $5 per person for a night’s rest.  It doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me. We frequented ranger stations, local outfitters, even people we ran out to out on the trails, asking the best sights and hikes in the area, local food suggestions, and on a few occasions the best driving routes from point A to point B. That was actually how we ended up driving one of the most scenic routes of our lives through central Utah when traveling from Arches to Zion. Ask me about it next time you drop by the shop!

Roadtrip pic 4Therefore hence hither thusly in conclusion, drive. The road is and always will be my favorite way to travel. Some have even called it “king”. One of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes about listless wandering is, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” I have so much appreciation for the time I spent traveling, both for all of the things I have seen and experienced, as well as the bits of myself I would have not seen otherwise had I not been traveling for long periods of time. I owe a large part of who I have become to the many opportunities I have been blessed with to be able to go out and experience so many different places in our country. Simply by writing this piece, so many positive emotions and memories have been brought back and I would not have changed a thing. I know my feet are certainly starting to get that familiar itchy feeling, and the only way to cure that is to stretch them out on a path to everywhere.

 

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