Our national parks are public treasures that provide more than a window to our past or a means to preserve the natural bounty within them. They’re some of the most beautiful places on Earth, where you can rekindle your sense of awe and adventure.
Last week, I had to step off the trail I was on to let a band of bighorn sheep rams go by. It was a beautiful route. No matter which way it turned, it led through wildflowers that all but buried the mountainsides in avalanches of color. Golden eagles sailed among the summits. Patches of sun spotlighted waterfalls on the cliffs below. The world seemed in mint condition. I breathed it in deeply and felt recharged. Topped off with hope. Unbounded. And all I’d done was go for a walk in the park.
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Much of the pleasure of being there lay in knowing that everything within view belonged to me — because this was Glacier National Park, a U.S. national park. We the people essentially own 58 national parks. Gifts from previous generations, these special reserves of public land encompass nearly 52 million acres of the country’s most spectacular natural settings and intact wildlife communities. They will be one of the most valuable legacies we bequeath in turn to those who follow in an increasingly crowded world.
More Than Money Can Buy
People say that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. National parks are an exception. If you were the richest, most powerful person on Earth, nothing you could ever possess would outshine this treasury of permanently protected canyons, rivers, prairies, beaches, ancient forests and ice-sculpted summits that the most ordinary U.S. citizen inherits. There may be a more perfect expression of democracy. Offhand, I can’t think of what it would be.
When I stayed on Isle au Haut, part of Maine’s Acadia National Park, I liked to glide along the coast in a rowboat with only my thoughts and silent tendrils of fog for company. My favorite thing to do, though, was ramble the shores with my wife, showing our infant daughter the universe of creatures in a tide pool or eider ducks and gray seals out among the waves.
In Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, we explored orange sandstone mountains eroded into a maze of fins. Our daughter was leading the way now, with a younger brother in tow, scouting for crevices wide enough for us adults to squeeze through. At a visitor center, we found out that the crust atop the desert floor wasn’t formed by minerals but, instead, by a webwork of fungi, algae, bacteria and other microbes. What looked like dark varnish on sun-struck rocks turned out to be a product of bacterial colonies that concentrate manganese. The lesson? Even the barest-looking ground can be teeming with wildlife — it just happens to be mostly too small to see.