The Parks: A life changing experience
My first visits to the great parks of the west came in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Growing up in southern California made camping trips to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon fairly easy. While my father never talked to us about America?s special places, it was clear that he held a strong belief in the value of experiencing them. It was not unusual for the family to make a short side trip to visit Zion when traveling to Las Vegas or even making a visit to Yellowstone while on a summer excursion to visit family in Iowa and southern Minnesota. I was too young to appreciate the length of these side trips. All I knew was that there would be neat stuff like pools of colorful bubbling goop. I remember the ?Bear Jams? and a close encounter my older sister had with a black bear while visiting Yosemite not sure which as more scared. My memories of the parks include waking to find the wash basin frozen solid when a weather front rolled in to the Sequoias one June. Yes this trip was cut short as we, dressed in shorts and summer clothes, rushed home to sunny southern California. These were good times and great childhood memories that actually laid the foundation for the best park experiences yet to come.
Some years later, it was my turn. Like my father before me, I was compelled to share these special places with my family. This time I was the dad and my victims were my daughter (approaching teenage) and my wife and unlike my father, we were going to talk about their importance. Our trips to the parks were a bit more than just weekend jaunts or side trips as we were living in the southeast more than 1000 miles away. As we prepared for our trips, I began to tell the stories of my childhood experiences. We shared evenings talking about things, reviewing old picture albums and just getting ready. Having seen the effects of the earlier visits on my life even without the guiding hand of parents, I knew that the lives of the two people I loved most in the world were about to change forever. I really wanted them to feel the connection to the earth, the spirit of man and this amazing country. A trip to the book store to buy all of the travel books that we could on the parks was in order. Days turned into weeks as we studied the information, learning their history, climatology and main features. We really went overboard but this was important and after all knowledge is power. I wanted my family fully empowered.
The time finally came for the first big trip. Flying to Salt Lake City, I chose to enter the park through the west, as I had many years before. Like my father before me, we made the side trips to the Great Salt Lake and Promontory Point finally arriving in West Yellowstone where we stayed overnight. Rising early the next day and having an amazing breakfast it was time? time to change lives. Entering the park my wife and daughter were completely silent as we drove through the leftover evidence of the big fires. So silent was the car that I had to ask what the matter was. The response came. ?I hope we get to see some of the animals.? At this we approached the first meadow and pull off. My response was? ?You mean like this? as I pulled over at the site of appeared to be nearly a hundred bison casually grazing in the meadow. It was June so there were even calves still with their mothers. Tears started flowing and I don?t think they stopped that entire day. They got it? We ALL got it? Life has changed forever!
We spent 2 weeks in this park and The Grand Teton National Park before returning home that summer. My wife?s first venture west of the Mississippi river changed her forever. We have since made similar trips to the canyon country of Utah, the great prairies of the Dakotas and Wyoming and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with side trips through Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. With each new experience I have watched my families spiritual being expand and sense of patriotism grow. My daughter, now a young adult knows how special it is to be an American and feels such great pride in the ownership of so many amazing places. As I reflect on our experiences and begin to plan those yet to come, I realize that it was experiencing the parks together that has changed not only their lives but mine as well. If you have seen them once, I would encourage you to visit again. The experience will be orders of magnitude sweeter. If you have the opportunity, see them through the eyes of a child.
?The National Parks, America?s Best Idea?? Maybe, maybe not, but a visit to even one of them will be a life changing experience.