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National Parks

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When my brother was here last weekend (photos to come) he asked me which I liked better: Yosemite or Yellowstone. Scott has always asked questions like that; wanting me to choose one thing over the other.

But the question made me think. Yosemite is magical because it is the place of my youth. My mom took us there several summers. We’d stay in the housekeeping cabins or Curry Village tents. We’d hike the steep trail to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls and wander around Mirror Lake. We’d float down the Merced and walk among the tall trees. Scott and I felt a special freedom when we took the tram around the valley floor–as non-drivers from a no-public-transportation-town, it was liberating.

I know Yosemite is crazy crowded and these days I’d prefer to visit in winter, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Yellowstone is my backyard. Like Yosemite, it is a place of superlatives: the largest geyser basin in the world, the largest herd of free roaming bison, the biggest lake above 7,000 feet…and so on. It’s a place I’ve made my living and place I’ve run away to when I needed a break. It’s the National Park I’ve explored most and know best.

I love them both. I can’t choose.

I’ve been thinking a lot about National Parks lately as I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ documentary: National Parks, America’s Best Idea (you can watch it instantly on Netflix, which is what I am doing since it is a little pricey to buy.) It’s a six part series and I’m into part three.

Here’s a 26 minute preview.

[video:youtube:mx8WbZIWCSM]

When I was in college I took classes about National Park history and management (yes, you can get credit for that. I also took winter mountaineering and folk dancing. I miss Humboldt.) We learned all about the creation of the parks and what the idea of National Parks means to our country and the world. This documentary covers the same material, but with great cinematography and interviews with rangers, writers and National Park historians.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that I tear up thinking about how amazing it is that we protected these places. When it seemed like there was so much wilderness in this country, a few people had the foresight to make sure that we’d always have some wild lands. When I listen to Lee Stetson read the words of John Muir, it gives me goosebumps.

(Lee Stetson did a one man show in Yosemite for years –maybe he still does. He portrays John Muir on the night before finding out if Hetch Hetchy would be dammed. Thanks mom, for taking us to this show, even though I fell asleep…)

What John Muir and other park proponents knew is that having open space, untouched my humans, is critical to who we are as individuals and as a nation. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t spend time in the mountains. America wouldn’t be America without National Parks. Even folks who don’t get out there, get some vicarious joy through photos, film and words.

As a mom, I want to make sure that my boys get lots and lots of time in National Parks and other wild areas. I’m so glad we got up to Glacier this summer and, of course, lots of trips into Yellowstone. I’m hoping to take a roadtrip in September to introduce them (and myself) to Devils Tower, Jewel Cave and Mount Rushmore.

I know they won’t remember the specifics, but that’s not what these visits are about. They are about connecting with places and environments. They are about creating a lifelong love for parks and wilderness. And hopefully, creating a desire to protect these places. That’s what my mom did for me.

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