“Quick, name your top 3 National Parks or Monuments”, my husband said as we descended the trailhead to Vernal Falls in Yosemite. It was a pristine mid-September day – a halcyon sky, temps in the low 80’s, and very few people.
Its days like those that I thank my lucky stars for conservationists and outdoors people such as Stephen T. Mather – regarded as the father of the National Park system. The story goes that after Mr. Mather returned from a 1914 visit to Sequoia (CA) and Yosemite he wrote about his disappointment in how the parks were being managed to a college buddy - Secretary Franklin Lane. Lane responded, “Dear Steve: If you don’t like the way the national parks are run, why don’t you come on down to Washington and run them yourself.” And he did. Since then 390 National Parks and at last count 160 National Monuments – not to mention National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, Memorial Parkways, etc. - have met rigid standards to become our national treasures.
Many parks, such as Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos, NM are small gems – offering a distinct attraction - in this case, ancestral Pueblo dwellings. Andersonville in Andersonville, GA is the site of the National Prisoner of War Museum and the preserves the site of Camp Sumter – an infamous civil war prison. Larger parks offer a wealth and variety of natural wonders – Glacier in MT, Big Bend in TX, and Acadia in ME come to mind. San Antonio Missions, TX offers fascinating self or guided tours of four well preserved 18th century missions. Find your ideal National Park here - http://www.nps.gov/parks.html.
If you plan to visit several of these national wonders consider purchasing a money saving America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. For a mere $80 this card will allow you entry into any National Park, National Monument or Federal recreation site – including entry into sites managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management – that charges an entry fee for one year. Park entry fees range from a few bucks to $25 at some of the larger, more popular parks.
America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass – Senior Pass ($10.00) and America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass – Access Pass (free) are available to people over 62 or disabled, respectively, and must be obtained in person. These special cards not only offer entrance into parks but also give the card holder a 50% discount on camping, parking, interpretive services, and more. Learn more about the park passes here - http://www.nps.gov/parks/passes_fees.htm
153 of the parks in the system offer camping. Usually they don’t offer RV hookups but the campgrounds can accommodate RVs – sometimes up to 35+ feet long. Staying there allows you to get a full day of enjoyment from the park and RV in the most amazingly beautiful surroundings. You’ll have the option of attending the Ranger Campfire Programs, stargazing parties, or spotting wildlife at dusk or dawn – without every really leaving home.
Whether you fancy history or driving adventures, glaciers, dinosaurs or coral reefs, the scenic splendors of our National Park System will astound and astonish you with their beauty, diversity, and accessibility.
As for my husband’s challenge, out of the 82 parks we visited I have my favorites…but as I look through old brochures I realize that choosing 3 is a near impossibility.