After Years Of Avoiding The National Parks I’m Back…
In my younger days I had the pleasure of visiting, hiking, and climbing in many of our National Parks. The list includes Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, North Cascades, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Crater Lake, Zion, Canyonlands, and Petrified Forest.
There came a time when the photos of long lines of cars stopping to watch bison or elk from the road made me flinch. Massive summertime crowds to watch a geyser and the ignorance of far too many people approaching wildlife as if they were at a petting zoo led to me avoiding the Park System for a long time. Who needs that I asked myself?
Well, it turns out I do.
Deep Into The Park
I recently had the pleasure of backpacking into Rocky Mountain National Park. Once we left the trailhead and hiked our way deeper into the park it was only us. And the big mountains. The wide open meadows. The sound of mountain water cascading over rocks. Elk bugling. Bald Eagles soaring. A moose sauntering through our camp at twilight. Quiet. Solitude. I had forgotten that a National Park could offer such an experience.
For years I went to Wilderness Areas and National Forests believing here was the only experience for me. I can hike and camp pretty much where I want. But I also noticed a greater impact on the land I was traveling. Fire rings willy-nilly across the landscape. Broken tree branches around those fire rings as high as a person could reach. Switch back trails cut causing erosion. Three or four parallel trails walked in side by side of the main trail so hikers can avoid getting their feet wet. Basically, no trace of Leave No Trace.
And here is where the Park System excels. You must camp in designated spots with a reservation system. Wilderness permits for certain areas only. Many miles of trails that to most of us appear over-built but they do serve the great purpose of reducing our impact on the land. The Parks do a great job of isolating impact to certain spots in the name of preserving a vast landscape untrammeled and left in a more pristine state.
Home Again Home Again
I’ve been back home for a couple days and I still am riding a wave of excitement from this backcountry trip. It was wonderful in so many different ways. Feeling at home in the Park felt great. It had been a very long time since I backpacked in RMNP. And perhaps the greatest realization was how good a job RMNP is doing with its limited resources.
The United States really did come up with the best idea in the world when the National Park System was created. Thanks to all our National Parks… I’m back!