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I've now been to all 58 of the national parks, many of them multiple times. And I've visited an uncounted number of the other 333 national monuments, historic sites and other units of the park system (I resist counting them, for fear of unleashing an obsessive quest to check them all off). But I do have a list of activities I'd still like to do in some of the parks I've already seen. Most of them would require more time and planning than I devoted to earlier trips – and some may now be too ambitious for my aging knees. It's a long list, but here are the top five.
I still get a thrill watching Old Faithful erupt, whether I'm in a crowd of thousands in mid-summer or essentially alone in the dead of winter. And I'm happy to stop at all the other "must-see" locations of the world's oldest park for the umpteenth time. But the bulk of Yellowstone is more remote. I hope to hike and/or take horses deeper into its wild heart and camp, most probably in the southwestern Bechler region.
When we were filming from the rim, I could see the trails down amongst the crater's cinder cones, and learned of cabins (built by the CCC) that can be reserved in advance. I'd like to explore that crater (and not have to hike back up out of it).
I love Death Valley and have visited it in all seasons. Fall, winter, spring are best: you don't know what "heat" is until you've been to the lowest, driest, hottest spot in the country in mid-July. In a remote corner of the park is the Racetrack playa, a dry lake bed where rocks have mysteriously moved across the surface, leaving trails in the sand. Boy, I'd love to see that. Trouble is, the road to it is long, extremely rough and requires a high clearance vehicle (one ranger also told me that heading there without a good spare is a fool's errand) – and I've never been totally prepared in terms of time or equipment.
When we were shooting at this way-north park in Alaska, the massive caribou migration from the North Slope was not quite yet underway, so I missed it. And when the operator of the Bettles Lodge told me about the spectacular displays of the aurora borealis in winter, the words of one of my favorite Robert Service poems (about a man who goes mad in search of fortune at the Northern Light's source) haunted me for days. To be honest, I don't know which I'd choose if the chance arises: the caribou or the lights.
Isle Royale, in a remote corner of Lake Superior, is the biggest island in the biggest freshwater lake in the world. On it is Siskiwit Lake, and Ryan Island is its biggest island. Bad weather prevented me from getting to Ryan Island during our brief stay there, so it's the reason I must return. I simply have to be able to tell people I've stood on the biggest island in the biggest lake on the biggest island in the biggest lake of the world.
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