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What is YOUR Favorite Park Experience?

Entrace to Cave in Lava Beds National Monument; NPS photo (David Hays).

Entrace to Cave in Lava Beds National Monument; NPS photo (David Hays).

While Kurt has been in Austin, he's had a chance to chat with a few folks close to the National Parks. One of his recurring questions has been, "What has been your favorite experience in the National Parks?" How would YOU answer that question? Use the comment form below to submit your favorite story. I figure that among the national park travelers that read this website, there must be some good stories out there. To get the ball rolling, here is my most memorable, favorite moment in the National Parks:

Bat Count in Lava Beds National Monument

When I was an interpreter in Lava Beds National Monument, I was told of a bat survey happening in the park. The survey was to be conducted by the park biologist team, but other workers in the park (like me) were invited to watch. Lava Beds National Monument has many lava tube caves, more than 300 have been cataloged, if my memory is correct. Some of these caves, but not all, provide shelter for resident and migratory bat species. The cave targeted for this bat survey was fairly remote, and required a bit of a hike to access.

A lot of people in the park went to see this bat count, perhaps 30 of us, including seasonals in the park from the Student Conservation Association, volunteers, and park personnel. We parked at the trail head, an hour or so before sundown. This whole group of folks trudged through the pumice rock trail. The instructions were, "hike two miles, then take a left, off trail, at the lone juniper, and hike another half mile". This is before GPS, and it was in a wilderness area, so with those brief instructions, we were on our own to figure it out. I'm not sure I could find that cave again today, if I tried.

We made it to the cave. We were all fairly chatty at this point, somewhat excited for what we might see. While we waited, we had excellent seats for a terrific sunset. Then, maybe 15 minutes later, the park biologist raised his hand, signaling for silence. Soon, a few bats trickled out of the cave entrance, followed immediately by hundreds upon hundreds of little bats flying into the night sky. I have no idea how they count all those bats. I just remember being in complete awe at the site of this cloud of creatures streaming from the cave. It is a memory that has lasted for so many years quite vividly in my mind.

Everyone there that night was touched by the event. Walking back to our cars was fun, we were all energized by what we had seen. Of course, after the survey, nightfall had arrived, so our walk back to civilization was done in the dark. We had flashlights (and we may have used them on occasion), but the light of the rising moon was enough to guide our way. What a great experience that was.

OK, there's my favorite park moment. What is yours? Use the form below to share your story with the other travelers here.


I agree - this is a REALLY tough decision - there are SO many!
But, if I had to pick one, it was at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park in 2005. Our plan was to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail our first morning. I'd always wanted to hike this trail that goes across a volcanic crater, but it was almost 5 miles long, and my husband was still only just starting to "be OK" with hiking - although I've been "outdoorsy" all my life, he is more of a city boy, so it is tough to convince him of the "joys" of hiking sometimes when you can get great views "from the car."
So, in 2005, he was just getting to the point where he wouldn't complain of a 2-3 mi hike - as long as significant elevation changes weren't involved, and he was consistently "comfortable."
Well, that morning, it started to rain - that typical tropical rain forest rain....that is, a steady, light, never-ending mist. We did bring ponchos, and although I'm ok w/ hiking in the rain, it didn't bode well for Jacob's experience.
Regardless, he was a trooper, and donned his poncho, and we took off.
It continued to drizzle the whole time, and I was constantly fretting about how he was "suffering" and how I'd never hear the end of it, and he'd never hike with me again.
Well, about 1 mile into the hike, we had descended through the tropical forest to the bottom of the crater and were about to start the trek across it. I turned around on the trail and saw Jacob in his cheap poncho, soaking wet.
Through the mist and fog, I could see him - he was smiling, and his eyes were taking it all in and bright as sapphires....and he said just one word looking out over the crater - "Wow!" Discomfort was the farthest thing from his mind.
It ended up being his most favorite hike in all the national parks we've visited to this day (he's now proud to say he's visited over 100 national park sites!).
Since then, he's upgraded to roadside camping in the parks, and this year he even did his first backcountry camping experience - pack and all!
But, I think it was this favorite hike in Hawai'i that I think that started it all - and it was one of my most memorable for that reason alone.


Wow, this is tough. I don't know if it was the night camping on Bar Island in Frenchman's Bay in Acadia National park, and watching the Pleiades Meteor Shower while my dog munched blueberries off the bushes around my sleeping bag (counted well over 100 shooting stars before falling asleep!) Or my one and only Blue Ridge Parkway from bottom to top road trip, taken in 1976 in Maggie, the metallic blue '56 Ford Pickup Truck. Or the Hike with Don Pace in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area learning about copper mining from 1640 on, and being shown the mines, and seeing the boy scout camp that used to be there through his eyes growing up on it in the 1950's and 60's, before the Tock's Island Dam acquisitions happened that formed the DWGNRA as it is today.

Picking one experience is difficult, but there is one that stands out in my mind: my first view of Delicate Arch in Arches NP. I had spent the previous two days in the park, hiking and photographing the surreal formations, as well as building myself up for the hike to Delicate Arch. The hike itself was awesome; climbing the steep slickrock slope was a great challenge with terrific views. But nothing compares to rounding the last corner of the trail and getting a visual (and emotional) kick in the rear as that fantastic rock sculpture comes into view. It's a place that every national park lover should see.

My second trip to the Grand Canyon, when I made it down 1.5 miles and back with my best girlfriend from college. Truely a life changing experience that made me promise to come back when my sons are in their teens and make it all the way to the bottom and back.


Snowmobiling in Yellowstone!!

My wife and I were planning a trip to Isle Royale, but then she was in a car accident and didn't feel up to carrying a pack for a week. We "settled" for a trip to Yellowstone. One of the most enjoyable parts was a hike up to some petrified tree trunks. It is not on the trail map, but the rangers gave us a photocopy of a hand drawn map. We spent the entire day up in the mountains and did not see a single other person. While the trees themselves were fascinating, the views and the solitude were even better.

I agree with Frank--difficult to choose just one. Most recently, I remember that a Park Service Law Enforcement Ranger found me and a friend staring slack-jawed at the base of a cliff, playing an amateur game of guess-the-petroglyph. Apparently, he decided our water bottles, tank tops, and sneakers made us unlikely pothunters, and spent the next hour leading us on an unofficial, on-the-trail, but not-in-the-guidebook, tour of New Mexico’s mysterious Chaco Culture National Historical Park. We saw oyster shells embedded in desert rocks, and discovered ancient etchings of small men, snakes, and mountain lions. Later, as the sun set, we examined a pile of rocks next to the Pueblo Bonito ruins. How many other visitors had walked past these same red-orange rocks and not noticed that the curvature of the rock pile echoed the rolling mountain peaks in the distance? He urged us to stay for the night sky program (trust me--you’ve never seen so many stars as you see at Chaco!) and then climbed in his truck and drove off. We counted the jackrabbits darting across the road, and then counted our lucky stars. Thanks, Ranger John.

My very first night in the desert. Jumbo Rocks campground in Joshua Tree NP (then NM) in early May. A perfect day, a perfect evening with the round sand stones glowing deep red in the last light. And me on top of one of them. Then the night, still a bit chilly, with all the stars you can see in the desert but never in the city. Up again before sunrise, looking far out in the desert in the clearest air possible, the light had a blue hue in the last minutes before the sun crossed the horizon. In the next twenty minutes I was busy taking pictures of Joshua Trees as silhouettes against the sky, the sun, the barren land, the rocks and the other bizarre desert vegetation.

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