Throughout my nearly 11 months writing with Jetset Times, I have written of rivers and redwoods, recounted the charm of craggy cliffs and cascading cataracts and soliloquized about snow-dusted summits soaring above verdant valleys.
Commenting on colossal canyons and highlighting vibrant hot springs, icy glaciers and plunging gorges has given me renewed appreciation for the rugged wilderness found around the United States and Canada. Here are reflections on the raw beauty of national parks.
From coast to coast, hidden gems of nature are tucked away in less-traveled places. Packed freeways and clogged city streets give way to winding, desolate roads which snake through miles of forests and curve along cliffs, valleys and mountains.
An icy road cuts through the desolate region surrounding Washington State’s snowcapped Mount St. Helens, a mammoth dormant volcano which dwarfs the scraggly trees lining its foothills. The peak’s slate-gray grandeur calls to mind Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, granite giants looming high above the rippling blue water of Jackson Lake. In Colorado, visitors hop aboard the Pikes Peak Cog Railway for a snowy trip past the Bristlecone pines and bighorn sheep prevalent throughout the Rocky Mountains.
Further north, the lofty Canadian Rockies range conceals hidden lakes, wild rapids, snowy ski trails and an elegant chateau. In the southern United States, a haze of fog hangs over the forested Appalachians, obscuring the creamy cascades and golden leaves nestled deep within the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains.
These parks belong to another world, one less traveled and more tranquil than the crowded cities jam-packed with people and buildings and automobiles. There, the air is stifling and the idea of nature is more of a pipe dream that vanishes in a cloud of smog than a reality.
Utah’s magnificent sandstone rocks are on full display in Arches National Park, where red cliffs and ancient formations stud the otherwise barren landscape with bright splashes of color. The neighboring Canyonlands are similarly enchanting, with vast chasms and gorges punctuated by towering bluffs and flat mesas. In the Midwest, the forested hillsides of the Black Hills and arid topography of the Northern Plains coexist under the same rosy sky which illuminates the dramatic desolation of the Badlands.
The sun that bakes the Badlands into an inhospitable, parched region also shines on the longest rivers and most breathtaking lakes in the United States. In Minnesota, the shining Lake Itasca is the deep-blue source of the mighty Mississippi River; in Washington State’s North Cascades, the aquamarine Diablo Lake glistens in the shadow of frosted mountains. The water brings with it a sense of peace, a serenity found along the shoreline of Lake Crescent or in the shooting spray from California’s McArthur-Burney Falls.
There are better-known parks that I have covered — Niagara Falls, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoia and Glacier, among others — which, while deserving of every accolade and certainly worth visiting, will go unexamined here.
Naturalist John Muir, whose love of untamed places like California’s stately King’s Canyon gave him the moniker “the Father of the National Parks,” once famously said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
They call still. Mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, deserts and prairies, forests and hills beckon all to visit; to travel; to explore and enjoy. These pristine places give visitors both an opportunity to cherish their beauty and a charge to maintain it. Should their beauty fade as a result of abuse and become a casualty of mankind’s misapplied zeal for progress and change, irreplaceable treasures will be lost forever. National parks are those marvelously untouched regions which we are called to protect and steward wisely so the next generation can have the gift of wild, untamed lands; of rushing rivers and tranquil lakes; of eagles soaring above mountains and perching on crags to survey the vast, untrespassed expanse below.