My Great Year for National Parks, Monuments, and Forests

A Joshua tree in bloom at Joshua Tree National Park

June 2016 through August 2017 has been an incredible one year and three months for me for visiting United States’ National Parks, Monuments, and Forests. The National Parks and Monuments are managed by the National Park System, the National Forests by the United States Department of Agriculture. They are all among our nation’s national treasures and I am so grateful that we decided, as a nation, that there are some things too beautiful and rare to be despoiled for short-term material gain.

I’ve also been to many National Historic Sites over the course of this same period, but the journeys I’m focusing on here have been all about enjoying my country’s spectacular and incredibly varied natural beauty in just these few of the greatest of our natural preserves…

1 – Zion National Park, Utah. Panoramic view from Observation Point which overlooks the Virgin River canyon from 6,507 feet, June 2016

The Narrows, Zion National Park, is a slot canyon formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Most of the hike through this amazing formation is done by wading through the river. It’s wonderfully refreshing on a hot day but it’s also hard on your feet, hiking on and among slippery rocks while your feet are continuously soaked

Enjoying cold milk (it’s a very good thermos) and salty bacon at after the hot, steep hike to Observation Point, Zion National Park

2 – Bryce Canyon, Utah, a panoramic view, June 2016

A windy day at Bryce Canyon. The evening before we were to return home from that trip to Zion and Bryce, my companion and I heard that it was going to be a clear night. So we packed up our Zion campsite that evening and returned to stargaze from above and among the rock turrets and canyons at Bryce, a prime place for viewing the night sky nearly free from light pollution. We ran into a trio of night sky photographers, and they let us look through their cameras and see the starlight they had captured throughout the night.

3, first visit – Yosemite National Park, California. Tenaya Lake from Tioga Pass, June 2016

Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Valley, still gushing in June. When I return later that year, it will look very different

4 – Grand Canyon, Arizona. View from South Kaibob Trail, August 2016

On the South Kaibob Trail on the way to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. This was a whirlwind trip: I had just been in Southern California to visit family and had only a few days off work. I took the last two days of this precious time off to go to the Grand Canyon because I’d never been, an unacceptable state of affairs. I woke up very, very early in the morning, drove from Southern California to the Grand Canyon. I arrived about 3 pm, and chose this quicker, steeper hike to the canyon floor, which I reached not long after sunset. After a scolding from a fox, whose den I had stumbled into while exploring in the half-light, I spent a rather hot, buggy, restless night with just a ground tarp and sleeping bag, arose very early, and hiked out of the canyon via Bright Angel Trail. It was gorgeous, and fortunately, the first third or so of the trip followed the course of a creek where I was able to bathe my hot head, arms, and legs from time to time. I arrived at the rim around noon, and once the bus returned me to the car, I began the drive straight back to Oakland, with one break at a truck stop to take a shower. I arrived home very early in the morning, took a nap, and reported to work as usual at quarter to eight, stiff, sore, and glowing with adventure. By the way, in ordinary circumstances, I don’t recommend a hike into and back out of the Grand Canyon immediately succeeded by a twelve-hour, straight-through drive. Straightening and moving my limbs became far more difficult each time I got out of the car, and by the time I got to work, I could hardly manage a hobble. But we had been understaffed at work for a long time and I needed to break away and do something fantastic, so it was well worth it.

View of Grand Canyon walls from Bright Angel Trail, September 2016 Amy Cools

View of Grand Canyon walls from Bright Angel Trail

3, second visit – Yosemite National Park, California, a view featuring Half Dome from the Yosemite Falls – El Capitan Trail, September 2016

At Yosemite Falls overlook. The Falls had dried up by this time.

Panoramic view from the El Capitan Trail, September 2016. What a beautiful hike! Long and steep in places, but great places to rest. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a filter in case you need more, there’s none to be had up here. I was pretty thirsty by the time I finished.

5) Canyonlands National Park, Utah, December 2016

A view of Canyonlands National Park, December 2016 Cools

A view of Canyonlands National Park

6 – Colorado National Monument, Colorado, panoramic view, December 2016

At Colorado National Monument, December 2016

Bighorn sheep at Colorado National Monument, December 2016

7, first visit – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Lochsa Lodge on the day of my arrival, January 2017. I was on a literary retreat and had decided to keep my camera put away and enjoy nature thus undistracted this time. It was beautiful here, covered in snow, and the natural hot springs by Warm Springs Creek were glorious

8, first visit – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. At the north gate’s Roosevelt Arch, Montana, January 2017

Canary Spring with Mount Everts in the distance and bison near the lake below, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Bison at Yellowstone National Park. During my visit, despite the cold and deep snow, I saw plenty of wildlife, including elk, many species of birds, deer, and a red fox

9 – Joshua Tree National Park, California, panoramic view of Hidden Valley, March 2017. This park is especially dear to my heart

Joshua Tree, pencil cholla, yucca, and blue blue sky, in the Mohave Desert portion of Joshua Tree National Park.

A natural sphinx among the sun’s rays and above the yucca plants

10 – Pinnacles National Park, California. I was here this year in March 2017, but I didn’t take any pictures during that visit. I was on another one of those literary retreats, and I decided to repeat my no-cameras-in-nature policy from last retreat. My companions and I saw many more California condors on this trip than I had seen during my earlier visits here, and since it was early in the year before the heat of the summer, there were many wildflowers. I took this photo and the next during one of my earlier visits, in July 2013.

At Pinnacles National Park, July 2013

11 – Olympic National Park, Washington. A view of its stunning mountain peaks, May 2017. Excuse the shadow in the corner, I keep my mini tablet in a sturdy case since I carry it hiking and just about everywhere else with me; I can take great photos with it as well as write on it comfortably. The case offers better protection than any other I’ve found, but its camera opening is a little misplaced, requiring I nudge the tablet over before I take a photo. I forgot this time, as I all too often do

At another overlook in Olympic National Park, May 2017

Panoramic view of Olympic National Park from Hurricane Hill. You can see the ocean near Point Angeles in the distance to the left

7, second visit – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho, in the Bitterroot Mountains. A view from a trail not far from Wendover Creek’s West Fork, July 2017. This time, I camped near Lochsa Lodge at Powell Campground, then hiked, or attempted to hike, the Wendover Ridge trail that the Lewis and Clark expedition trekked over this mountain. I got in a very hood hike indeed, but lost the trail. It’s not often used and I had no guide who is familiar with it, so I ended up off-trail quite a bit. I was not disappointed, however: it was a glorious adventure.

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, a view from near Wendover Ridge, July 2017

8, second visit – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming, July 2017

At the summit of Mt Washburn, Yellowstone National Park. My elation is pretty evident in this photo

12 – Custer-Gallatin National Forest, view from the high point of Beartooth Highway near the Wyoming/Montana border, July 2017. They closed the high point of the pass late night through early morning, and since I was driving through a little after midnight, I pulled off to sleep. So glad they closed the road. I saw the most incredible array of stars before I went to sleep, and I woke up to this view.

Custer-Gallatin National Forest, view from Rock Creek Vista, Montana, off Beartooth Highway

13 – Black Hills National Forest, entering Black Elk Wilderness on the Black Elk (formerly know as Harley Peak) Trail, July 2017

View of the Black Hills with a Rocky Mountain goat from Black Elk Peak, July 2017

14 – Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2017. I passed through this park on a long drive and didn’t get to spend much time, but admired what I did see greatly. I will be back!

Passing from the Badlands into the Pine Ridge Reservation, July 2017

15 – Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, overview of Kabetogama Lake from Blind Ash Bay Trail, August 2017

On some very ancient rocks at Voyageurs National Park. The exposed rocks at this park date as far back as 2.8 billion years, over half the age of the Earth itself.  Such ancient rocks are exposed here because the park contains the edge of the Canadian Shield, an ancient volcanic bedrock that’s been exposed in places by glaciers that passed through here then disappeared around 11,000 years ago. The rocks I visited are not that old, but they are very old indeed. Grace, a geology enthusiast and employee of the National Park Service, was excited at my inquiry about the geology of the park (her fellow National Park Service employee watched our interaction with an ‘oh no, here we go again! look), and she took me on a tour of some nearby ancient formations. The one I’m sitting on is one of those.

A garter snake sticks out its red tongue on an ancient rock at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

16 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, panoramic view of Painted Canyon, August 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, another view of Painted Canyon. Unfortunately, I also got to spend only a very little time in this park since I needed to hurry on to my next destination, but I had to get myself over here for at least a peek and to pay tribute to this man who did so much for conservation efforts in the United States. Thanks, Theodore Roosevelt!

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2 thoughts on “My Great Year for National Parks, Monuments, and Forests

  1. Pingback: To the Great Plains and Illinois I Go, in Search of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Abraham Lincoln, and Other American Histories | Ordinary Philosophy

  2. Pingback: Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota | Ordinary Philosophy

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