In continuing celebration of having reached my milestone 300th U.S. National Park visited, I’m posting about 30 of my favorite memories from my national park visits thus far.
#20) Hiking to Mt. Olympus Viewpoint at Olympic National Park – August 2003
National parks are often places for testing our limits. On a visit to the vast Olympic National Park in Washington, my friend and I naturally hoped to catch a glimpse of Mount Olympus. The only problem was that reaching any of the viewpoints for Mount Olympus required an extensive hike in to the interior of the Park. My friend and I compounded the problem by insisting upon going for a loop trail – in this case, one that was a whopping 20 miles. Suffice to say, we were neither suffiicently prepared nor properly conditioned for a hike of that length. By the time we dragged ourselves back to the car, a couple hours after sunset, we were both completely and utterly exhausted. Still, we did catch that glimpse of Mount Olympus! Well, just barely, as we had to look for it between breaks in the clouds.
#19) Landing at Portsmouth Village on Cape Lookout National Seashore – July 2002
By coincidence, I have two hikes in a row that were both a little more than I had bargained for. As mentioned in this Parkasaurus post, Portsmouth Village is one of the best-preserved ghost towns and one of the most-difficult to reach Passport cancellations on the East Coast. Just to get to the site, you need to take a ferry from the mainland to Ocracoke Island in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and then from there hire another boat to take you over to Portsmouth Island. The ghost town of Portsmouth Village was interesting enough, but what my friend and I were completely unprepared for were the absolute clouds of mosquitoes! I remember applying multiple layers of high-strength Deet, and still seeing the mosquitoes line up on my blue jeans trying to find a way in! Fortunately, the kind Park Rangers on the island took mercy on my friend and I gave us a ride on their Gator to help speed along our visit! No, they didn’t actually let us drive it – but they did let us pose for this photograph!
#18) Hiking the Savage River Trail in Denali National Park & Preserve – September 2008
By contrast, I have nothing but fond memories of this hike in Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve. Our first day in Denali, my wife and I took an all-day bus tour out to Wonder Lake, which of course has been made famous by the photography of Ansel Adams. Although we weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mount McKinley on that day, we had enough exciting encounters with Alaskan wildlife to fill a scrapbook full of memories. For our second day, we decided to head out on our own to enjoy some of the Alaskan solitude. The Savage River Trailhead is the furthest point into the Park that you can drive your own vehicle without a special permit, and this late in the season, we seemingly had this part of the park all to ourselves. Even though it was only Labor Day weekend, this was already pretty late in the visitaiton season for Denali – indeed, the plants on the tundra were already beautiful fall colors of red and gold. The image that sticks with me from this trip, however, is reaching the end of the marked trail and seeing the Savage River valley stretch off into the seemingly infinite Alaska wilderness.
#17) Patriot Day at Minute Man National Historical Park – April 2005
The American Revolution began with the “shots heard ’round the world” in the villages of Lexington and Concord, an event now marked every year as Patriots’ Day in the State of Massachusetts. Normally, visiting a national park in the morning is a good way to beat the crowds – but not on Patriots’ Day in and around Minute Man National Historical Park. A reenactment is held each year on Lexington Green (technically not part of the National Park Service’s property), followed by commeorative ceremonies at Old North Bridge in Concord. The event begins in Lexington at 5:30am – and literally every parking lot in the village of Lexington is packed. Savvy locals get there even earlier than that with step ladders to provide viewing points for their young children. The reenactment event itself, true to history, only lasts a few minutes; the Americans fire a few shots, the British fire back, and the Americans run, Afterwards, it seems that almost everyone heads over to the local Catholic Church, located just off the Green, to enjoy a pancake breakfast sponsored by the local Boy Scout Troop. Smart thinking by those Scouts!
#16) Sequoia National Park, Home of the Big Trees – August 2009
In 2009, I attended my first Convention of the National Park Traveler’s Club, held that year at Sequoia National Park. It was great to spend the weekend with so many people who were dedicated to visiting the U.S. National Park System, especially in such a stunning setting. Although I had previously seen the world’s tallest trees at Redwood National Park, it was little preparation for seeing the true giants of the Kingdom of Life growing on the edges of alpine meadows. Looking up, it can be somewhat hard to comprehend the soaring heights of the Redwood. On the other hand, when you stand at the base of sequoia that is many times the circumference of any other tree you have ever seen, there is no mistaking that you are in the land of giants.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the sheer size of these trees quite like this picture of a toppled sequoia. Even laid flat on its side, the sequoia still towers over the trees around it.
#15) Waking up to Bison at Breakfast at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – July 2004
If you talk to enough travelers in the U.S. National Parks, many of them are likely to agree: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (of all places!) is one of the true hidden gems of the whole U.S. National Park System. I previously blogged a little bit about this Park back in December 2014. and highlighted the spectacular scenary, the history of Theodore Roosevelt’s days as a rancher in this area, and the unusual rock concretions in the shape of mushrooms. On my trip in 2004, however, the biggest surprise was waking up in the morning in the Juniper Campground in the Park’s North Unit to the sounds and smells of herd of bison wandering their way through the campground! I guess that when you are bison, you go where you please, and in this case, that was right past our tent! Normally, Park Rangers wisely advise everyone to keep a very respectful distance from bison – but in this case that wasn’t an option! Suffice to say that I got as close to the snorting and grunting bison as I will ever want to be. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the memories were unforgettable!
#14) Father’s Day Riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad at Cuyahoga Valley National Park – June 2013
Like many young boys, my now-four-year-old Juniot T-Rex has long had a love affair with trains. So when travels to visit family took us through northeast Ohio on Father’s Day weekend in 2013, there was an obvious way to combine daddy’s love of national parks and son’s love of trains – a trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Suffice to say my little T. Rex was beside himself with joy to be riding the train. The conductors even let him help punch the tickets while on board. The train railroad provides service from nearby Canton to various stops throughout the Park, and runs frequently enough that it can even be used to support a short visit or hike within the Park before being boarded for a return trip.
#13) Backpacking with Friends at Death Valley National Park – January 2009
On my first visit to Death Valley National Park, in January 2005, I remember feeling profoundly small. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering that Death Valley has one of the largest vertical elevation gains in the country, from 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin to more than 11,000 feet in elevation on nearby Telescope Peak.
In January 2009, I returned with two of my friends from college for an overnight trip in the Death Valley backcountry. Backpacking is itself a humbling experience, especially in a desert park like Death Valley, as everything you need for survival in the loneliness of the backcountry must be carried in with you. After our excursion, we did take some time to take in the salt flats in Badwater Basin and enjoy the otherworldly landscape of the lowest point in the United States.
#12) New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Memorial – December 2007
I’ve previously blogged about my love for the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve actually twice spent New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Memorial. The first time, in 1999, was for Washington’s commemoration of the turning of the Millenium. That event was nice enough, with the highlight being when they shot fireworks off the scaffolding that was then-surrounding the Washington Monument. The down-side is that it was very much a made-for-TV event. So, when the TV Network went to a commercial break, everything stopped and you were reminded that you were standing in the cold and in the mud, with nothing to do until the commercial break ended. So that event doesn’t make my Top 30.
However, eight years later I returned to the Lincoln Memorial on New Year’s Eve, with my then-fiancee, the future Mrs. Parkasaurus. Many people may not realize, but Washington actually does not normally have an outdoor New Year’s Eve event. So on December 31st, 2007 it almost felt like my fiancee had the illuminated Memorials on the National Mall to ourselves. As we climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just before midnight, we shared that special moment transitioning from one year to the next with just the security guard and two other couples who had similar ideas. It was a fantastic New Year’s Eve like no other.
#11) The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – September 2012
For the past four years, the National Park Service has put on a number of events marking the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Although as a family with two young children, we have attended fewer of these events than I might otherwise have liked, we definitely made it a special point to go to some of the events marking the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Harper’s Ferry, given our special connection to this Park. We’re glad that we did.
On the night of September 12, 2012 costumed interpreters from the National Park Service helped recreate several scenes from the night of September 12, 1862. That was the night that Union troops, recognizing that their position was indefensible, abandoned the town of Harpers Ferry to be captured by the Confederates the next day. Visitors were led by lantern light to various locations around the historic downtown where the costumed interpreters using material from actual letters and diary entries from 1862 really helped recreate some of the thoughts and emotions that various townspeople in Harpers Ferry must have been feeling on that night – both those who would be leaving, as well as those who would be left behind. Quite simply it was not a night that I will not soon forget.
I hope you enjoyed Part II of my 30 for 300 retrospective.