There are few things I love more than National Parks.
So there are many places I would love to be this week to celebrate the Centennial of our National Parks Service. Like the edge of the Grand Canyon. The narrows of Zion National Park. Standing knee deep in the cool perfection of Jenny Lake. Heading up Going to the Sun Road in a “Jammer.” Surrounded in the pure darkness of Mammoth Cave. On a pristine beach in the Channel Islands. Or crashing an elk party in the Rocky Mountains.
But alas, here I am in the dead-ass middle of the country. In one of the only states in the union that does not have a National Park. Surrounded by all the other states that don’t have National Parks. It’s hilarious. So hilarious I could cry.
If you find yourself facing similar geographic challenges today, do not fret. There are still ways that you can celebrate the most stunning corners of God’s creation. Here are a few:
- Check out today’s #GoogleDoodle. It’s really fun.
- Watch (again) National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the epic Ken Burns documentary that truly deserves the descriptive “epic.” Sadly, it’s not available on Netflix at the moment (though it sometimes is). You can watch parts of it at PBS.org, you can watch on Amazon Prime for $6.99, or you can borrow it from your public library. Also, check your local PBS listings, some might be showing it today to celebrate!
- Plan your next trip. Spend some time on TripAdvisor, Pinterest, and camped out with your Frommer’s National Parks of the West guide… (What, are my spouse and I the only people who read that for fun on a hot date night??) But start mapping out your next family road trip adventure. And if you are wanting to go next summer to one of the bigger parks, you need to reserve your campsite like, yesterday. Get on it!
- Have a party. Invite some friends over, open a six pack, and have everyone bring pics and stories from their favorite National Park excursions. If you want to really make it festive, break out the patio fire pit and some marshmallows and pretend you’re camping.
- Write to your Representatives. You may have heard some alarmist claims that the GOP platform proposes “DESTROYING ALL THE NATIONAL PARKS!” And while that may not be entirely true, there are some proposed measures that would make some of the parks vulnerable to development, or the stripping of natural resources. Here’s the thing though–it doesn’t matter WHO is in office at any given moment, many of our greatest parks are always, always on the verge of being infiltrated by opportunists. The Grand Canyon, for instance, has come very close–many times–to becoming a housing development. With a strip mall. There are always people looking for loopholes, and they are always just one ‘deal,’ or one careless law away from making it happen. Tell your legislators that these places matter to you, and that you are counting on them to protect our greatest national treasures. And tell them you will be watching closely til election day. And after.
- Give a gift to the National Park Foundation. Not only does this organization work for preservation; it also provides great programs that get at-risk and inner-city youth out to the parks. Kids who live just a few hours away from a place like Yosemite, but have literally never left their neighborhood. Take a minute to process how life-changing such a trip could be. Then go get your wallet. It’s tax deductible, and your grandchildren will thank you.
- Live vicariously. Speaking of planning your next trip… Read this article from Sunset Magazine, highlighting the SIX National Parks that are connected by a single road–Highway 89. Just reading this story makes for a great escape that you can accomplish the span of a coffee break. Then start plotting your actual escape. My husband and I did this trip once. A lifetime ago, before we had kids. We threw a tent in the car and, starting in Phoenix, made our way up to northern Montana. This is a pilgrimage that every American should take, at least once in there lifetime, and we are already plotting when we can go again–we’ll haul our kids along next time.
- Decorate. During the Great Depression, a federal program commissioned struggling artists to promote our national wildlife areas through these great posters. Which I guess we would now call VINTAGE posters. The originals are housed in the Library of Congress, and knock-offs can be purchased from any cheap-o online poster site. A great way to bring the parks to your home or your workspace. Sort of.
- Be mindful. Be grateful. One of the best things about being in a National Park is the way it makes us feel. Like, really small but in an important way. It comes with the territory. It comes with being in a wilderness so vast and so holy (with a few thousand of your closest friends) and realizing that the same God who made all this, also made you. You know what? You can remember that, anywhere. Take a minute, wherever you are, and give thanks for the wonder of creation. Your own life included. Then again, you could just
- Go anyway. Live in the middle of the prairie with nary a mountain, beach or desert in sight? Not to worry–there is no place in this country that is not within a day’s drive of a National Park. Even here in Kansas, I could leave after breakfast and be in the Rocky Mountains by dinnertime, if I really wanted to. So maybe, if your life will allow for such indulgent spontaneity, just say “screw it” to whatever other plans you had today, get in your dang car and just go.
These places may seem remote, but they are never too far away. And the really amazing thing is that all of this belongs to you. Get out there and see it.
Happy birthday, NPS! We’ll have some cake for you. Or at least some backyard s’mores…