I’m going to take a brief break from my usual postings on this blog to engage in a little self-indulgence. Careful readers may have noticed in my recent Trip Report that my trip to Petersburg National Battlefield marked my milestone 300th national park visited. To mark this occasion, I’ve decided to put together a brief retrospective on 30 of my favorite moments from the visits to my first 300 national parks. These are not necessarily my 30 favorite national parks, but rather they are 30 of my favorite moments from visiting national parks – in fact, some national parks that have had more than one special moment in my travels to them may even appear more than once. For simplicity, I’ve limited the choices here to parks that I visited after 1998, when I first discovered the Passport Program and first started to conceive of the possibility of visiting all the national parks, and all the way up to my trip to Petersburg just a couple months ago. To make this more readable, I’ll break this up into three posts of 10 favorite memories each. So without further ado, here are #’s 21-30 of my “30 for 300” in the national parks.
#30) Yosemite National Park in the Snow – March 2006
I figured that I should start this off this series with a national park that would rank as many people’s favorite. Back in 2006, I met up with a friend of mine from college who was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, and we headed out to Yosemite National Park for the weekend. After our first night in the Curry Village, we woke up to find that our spring day in Yosemite had been turned into a Winter Wonderland. The snow cover made the iconic Yosemite Falls especially spectacular.
#29) Discovering George Rogers Clark National Historical Park – May 2003
When you set out to visit all of the national parks in the United States, one of the many rewards is the discovery of the unexpected places that you never even knew existed before the journey began. Perhaps no place symbolizes that “discovery of the unexpected” for me more than George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in tiny Vincennes, Indiana. Most Americans have never heard of George Rogers Clark, although most have probably heard of his “little brother,” William Clark, of the famous Lewis & Clark expedition.
During the heart of the American Revolutionary War, however, it was older brother George who would stake first claim to the history books. In the dead winter of mid-February 1779, George Rogers Clark would lead 170 volunteers out of Fort Kaskasia in Illinois on a daring sneak attack. Together they would march across 180 miles of flooded prairie, sometimes wading through icy water that rose to their shoulders, to surprise the British garrison at present-day Vincennes. Their arrival caught the British completely by surprise – understandably given the extraordinary conditions – and he was able to force their surrender. This victory helped cement American control of the whole territory from Ohio to Illinois. This control would then be formally recognized four years later in the Treaties of Paris that ended the American Revolution, making this territory part of the fledgling United States, rather than part of Canada . Younger brother William would make his own way into the history books some 14 years later, but this extraordinary effort under incredibly harsh conditions demonstrated that there was more than one Clark brother with “Undaunted Courage.”
Today, Vincennes, IN is a location that is truly “off-the-beaten-path,” but the impressive memorial to George Rogers Clark commemorates his story – a story that I would likely never have learned had this national park not existed.
#28) Playing in the Surf at Cape Hatteras National Seashore – July 2002
Sometimes we visit a National Park to pursue solititude, and sometimes national parks are best visited with a friend. In the summer of 2002, my best friend from college and I took a road trip through all three of the national seashores in the middle of the Atlantic Coast. At Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, we particularly enjoyed playing in the surf, tossing a football to each other, with the waves crashing around us. Approriately enough, we named this particular game “Hatteras,” in honor of how much we enjoyed the pristine sandy beaches at this park.
#27) Counting Alligators at Big Cypress National Preserve – May 2014
The spring of 2014 found me travelling across south Florida from Miami to Naples with my family on the Tamiani Trail. Along the way, Big Cypress National Preserve proved to be the perfect place to stop for a picnic lunch. Right outside the picnic area, there is a boardwalk running alongside a canal that was also the perfect place to look for alligators with my then three-year old son. I can still hear him saying, “Dad, there’s another one!”
#26) Cajun Culture at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve – May 2004
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve in southeast Louisiana is something of a grab-bag of a national park, covering New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Barataria Nature Preserve just west of New Orleans, the Chalmette Battlefield from the War of 1812 just east of New Orleans, and then three Acadian Cultural Centers in the nearby cities of Eunice, Lafayette, and Thibodaux. Back in 2004, I was heading out to the Prairie Acadian Culture Center in Eunice, some 2.5 hours west of New Orleans, to try and catch a scheduled demonstration of cajun music. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, I was running late getting out there, and ended up missing it. As it turned out, though, I had no worries. The Ranger on duty that day said that she was in a cajun music band herself, and that her band was playing a gig that evening at a nearby restaurant called Bubba Frey’s. Arriving there, the special that evening was “boulet” – a dish that reminded me of a hush puppy, only with seafood mixed in. Acadian Cultural experiences rarely get more authentic than that!
#25) Looking Up at the World’s Biggest Trees in Redwood National Park – March 2001
In 2001, I was only two years out of college and making my first trip to the State of California. While visiting two of my friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, we decided, almost son the spur of the moment, to make the long day trip up the Pacific Coast Highway to Redwood National Park. This was my first encounter with the Pacific Coast Rainforest and with the giant trees. There’s a reason why these giants have inspired generations of conservationists. Standing under some of the tallest living things anywhere on the face of the Earth is always awe-inspiring.
#24) Sailing to Dry Tortugas National Park – December 2002
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the harder-to-reach places in the U.S. National Park System. Its location says it all – 70 miles west of Key West. The centerpiece of the park is historic Fort Jefferson, which straddles the tiny island of Garden Key like a behemoth – so much so that its walls seemingly stretch right over the edges of the key and plunge into the ocean. The Fort was built in the early 19th Century to protect the shipping passage around the Florida Keys into New Orleans, and was later used as an Alcatraz-style prison. Today, on a day trip out of Key West, not only do you get to tour this impressive historic fort, but the boat operators also provide snorkeling gear to discover the coral reef that has grown up around the walls in the ocean below. To top it all off, nearby Long Key, which is frequently connected to Garden Key by a sandbar, is a major seabird rookery. From my vantage point standing on the walls of Fort Jefferson, Long Key looked like it was a scene out of Jurassic Park, surrounded as it was by a virtual cloud of nesting seabirds.
#23) Discovering Petroglyphs at Arches National Park – July 1999
I could probably fill a whole blog post with my stories from Arches National Park, a true gem of the National Park System. On this trip, I was travelling by myself, on my way to Salt Lake City, and was camping on Bureau of Land Management Land along the Colorado River, just outside of the National Park. While there, I ran into a young woman who was also travelling solo. We agreed that it would be fun to go hiking together in the Park. It turns out that she had heard that there was a “secret” petroglyph panel in Arches National Park. Its “secret” because there is no marked trail to the panel, and the Park Rangers will not provide directions to it. This is due to the relatively small number of petroglyphs in the Park and the very high number of visitors that this “destination park” receives every year. Nevertheless, her directions were good, and when we arrived at the location, we found this simple sign from the National Park Service, “You’ve Found Something Unique – Please Preserve It.” Really – that sign could be placed almost anywhere in the National Park System, but it was particularly poignant here. This was the very first time I had ever encountered petroglyphs, and I was enthralled. Moreover, more than 15 years later, in an age when almost all information is available on the Internet, it seems amazing that a place with unpublished directions like this can still exist. You can see some good photos of the Dark Angel Petroglyphs, including that sign, here.
#22) The World is Big and Small at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve – September 2008
Since Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is one of those odd national parks that “counts twice,” I’m going to cheat a little bit and include two moments from this trip.
The main visitor center for this Park, located in Copper Center, AK, is set up somewhat unusually. The theatre with the park movie is actually located in a separate out-building from the rest of the visitor center. So after planning my hike in the main building, I went out to watch the move. I was so floored by the stunning aerial photography in this film that I just had to go back into the main building and ask the Rangers about how the photography was done, and hopefully purchase a take-home copy – something I had never done before (or since!). That ended up being a most-fortuitous decision. While I was talking to the Rangers back in the main building, the phone rang. A nearby flight-seeing operation had someone who was interested in going up for a tour, but they needed someone else to split the cost of the plane. The Rangers said that this had never happened before all summer – so clearly this was “meant to be.” The following hour spent flying above the glaciers in the Wrangell Mountains was one of the most memorable hours of my life.
Shortly after the flight-seeing tour ended, I proceeded to drive the rest of the way towards my planned hike. Along the way, I stopped at an overlook like this one, with the aspens in full fall colors. I checked my phone at one of these stops, and I had a text message with a picture of my new nephew, Aiden, who had been born just an hour or two earlier more than 3,800 miles away, on the other side of the continent, in Florida. This day had shown that the world was both larger and smaller than I had imagined.
#21) “She Said ‘Yes!'” at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park – October 2007
As things were getting serious with my then-girlfriend, it only seemed natural given my second love for the national parks that I should ask the big question in a national park. I was lucky to pick a beautiful fall colors day in West Virginia. We began the day with a quiet picnic lunch away from the crowds on Bolivar Heights in the western end of the Park. Then we headed to the historic downtown, where we discovered that the recently-rennovated Historic St. Peter’s Chapel was open for the first time that I had seen in my several years of having visited this Park. Since we are both Catholics, that ended up being the perfect place to combine faith, hope, and love and to ask her to spend the rest of our lives together. I’ve felt a special connection to this national park ever since.
Edit: This post was updated after original publication to add the stamp collage image at the end.Share this Parkasaurus post: