travel

The Feds Got It Right

geyserLast night I had a nightmare. I dreamt that the national parks had never been created. In my dream the once pristine lakes of the Grand Tetons were crowded with motorboats and jet skis, and the mountains scarred by time share condos crowding their slopes. The bubbling mud pots and colorful hot springs of Yellowstone were drained to provide treatments at expensive spas and the geysers were capped to harness their water and steam to run electric generators. I saw the few remaining animals from the parks corralled into zoos. I was about to scream when, tremendously relieved, I woke up.

We may not be able to compete with Europe or Asia when it comes to historic buildings or art museums, but the United States has more natural beauty than any other country in the world. My husband and I just returned from a trip to two of our magnificent national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

It is difficult to find words to describe the beauty of these parks. You are dwarfed by the vastness of their broad valleys, towering peaks and thick evergreen forests punctuated with white barked aspen. In addition, a large portion of Yellowstone is situated in the crater of an active volcano. In this part of the park you see geysers spouting water out of the ground, out of pools and strangest of all out of the middle of rivers. Steam rises into the air through ground vents and hot spring pools are colored every shade of blue, turquoise, yellow, orange and rust by bacteria or minerals. Yellowstone Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon in size and beauty and includes two monumental waterfalls along its length.

The roads throughout the parks make it very accessible providing turnouts or short walks to incredible views of the landscape and the animals that abound in the park. Bison and elk herds red squirrelspread out over the valleys, pronghorn antelopes and bighorn sheep pick their way across the hillsides and otters fish and play in the rivers and lakes. If you are lucky, you will catch sight of bears, wolves or moose (hopefully from a distance).

If you like to hike, the back country can take you away from other people into a solitude that is much the same as when the explorers first saw this area of the country. In the middle of the day by some incredible vista, you can stop to eat lunch. As you eat, you can listen to the crystal clear water of a lake lap against the rocky shore, or gaze at views of the distant mountains against a blue sky. Or you can sit on a log at the side of the trail and watch the red squirrels gather pine cones and listen to the clacking of the grasshoppers and the wind through the aspen leaves.

See the national parks. It is government at its very best.

Susan Harrison is an attorney by training, home remodeler by accident, and a writer by choice.

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