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Resolved: I’ll Visit at Least These Five National Parks in 2009


I can’t wait for the second week of May, because that’s when I’ll finally get to see Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve for myself. Photo by Urban via Wikipedia.

In the past, my national park visiting has been too sporadic and unfocused for comfort, but this year my New Year’s Resolutions are going to provide a sense of purpose and direction. Five parks is a very doable agenda. My list includes three Sure Things, a True Confession, and one Unfinished Business.

Sure Things (I’ve already made the plane reservations):

I’m going to tour Death Valley National Park this year. I’ve been to Denali National Park and skytrekked to Mount McKinley, the highest place in North America. Now it’s time to visit Death Valley so I can stop at Badwater Basin and add the lowest place in North America to my “been there, done that” list.

Mesa Verde National Park is on this year’s visit list. I love to study Native American cultures and I love mysteries. What Native American culture is more interesting than the ancient Anasazi? What age-old mystery is more compelling than the Anasazi disappearance from the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings?

My Olde Pharze card (aka America the Beautiful Senior Pass) is going to gain me a no-fee entry to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve this year. I’ve long known that this Colorado park is one of the best kept secrets in the entire Park System. Can’t wait to see a 750-foot high sand dune!

A True Confession:

This is the year I’ll finally visit Cowpens National Battlefield, site of the famous January 17, 1781 battle in which American troops under Daniel Morgan defeated the cream of Lord Cornwallis’ army -- a British force led by the infamous Col. Banestre Tarleton (“Bloody Tarleton”) -- and hastened the end of the Revolutionary War. My former students and faculty colleagues would be shocked to learn that I’ve never visited Cowpens. Could it possibly be that “Dr. Parks” let three decades slip by without ever once visiting a key Revolutionary War park that’s just 108.3 miles from his house? Wouldn’t he be awfully embarrassed to admit that? It is, and I am, and this year I’m going to fix that.

Unfinished Business:

At age 66, I’ve seen a good bit of the world. I lived in Europe for a couple of years. I’ve driven nearly 900,000 miles in 11 different countries. I’ve been to Hawaii twice, to Alaska twice, and to all of the other states at least once. All except North Dakota, that is. Now the Peace Garden State beckons to me across the miles. Yup, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the western North Dakota badlands is definitely on this year’s list.



Last summer my wife and I did a big road trip and among other parks, we visited Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes. I loved Great Sand Dunes. The water surges in Medano Creek were a sort of surreal experience: they looked like waves rushing down the creek and the creek bottom was always changing. Unfortunately I'd had enough sand hiking from earlier in the trip so we didn't do any dune hiking, but it is a great excuse to have to go back again.

If you're driving in southwest Colorado, I recommend visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Durango, and driving Route 550 if its open.

If we manage to get to Vegas again this year we will definitely make the short trip to Death Valley.

Happy 2009 to all!

TR Nat'l Park is one of my favorites in the NPS. It's beautiful, and it's remote, meaning less travelled. I like my solitude when I travel in the parks, and TR is one of the best places to get solitude.

Say "hi" to the wild horses for me. :D


My travels through the National Park System:

2008 was a good year for me, park-wise, as I made stops in Great Smoky, Cape Cod National Seashore, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Death Valley, Yosemite, and Devils Postpile.

But......there still are many units out there that I have yet to step foot in.

If the gods are willing, I hope to check off at least Hawaii Volcanoes, possibly Haleakala, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Redwoods, and Lassen Volcanic in '09.

And heck, Bob, if you make it as far West as you're threatening, perhaps we can get you in Arches, Canyonlands, and possibly even Natural Bridges!

Don't forget to visit Great Basin, my personal favorite.

Good point, DWalker. For several years I've been pondering a backpack trip there, and since it's in my backyard, relatively speaking (what's a 5-hour drive?!?), I should add that to my 09 list.

I envy you your itinerary, Bob. Death Valley & Great Sand Dunes are both underappreciated gems. I still vividly recall watching the changing moonlight shadows on the distant dunes while shivering all night during an unplanned bivy near the summit of Colorado's Crestone Needle. If you have time, don't miss the very impressive Anasazi ruins Betatakin & Keet Seel at the misnamed Navajo Nat'l Monument.

My wife and I just returned from Hawaii and the national parks there. This was our 50th state to travel in, and our next goal is to go to all the national parks. We have 17 more to go. We too are planning to go to Death Valley National Park this year. Maybe we will see you there. Happy traveling.

Bob, I think you'll find Theodore Roosevelt to be similar to your beloved Congaree. Yes, TR is short of cypress trees and Congaree is lacking in bison, but both parks are underrated, underappreciated, and full of unique character. Last summer in TR, I got up before dawn and walked from our campsite down to the Little Missouri River to watch the sunrise. The next morning I was up before the sun again and hiked out to Wind Canyon. ("Hike" is too strong a word, it's a short stroll from the road to the overlook.) From up above the mouth of the canyon you look out over the vast wilderness in the northwest corner of the park with the Little Missouri snaking through the plain. Just as the sun came up and hit the River, a herd of bison about 60 strong moved out of the darkness and waded through the water. Watching and listening to them, my attention was drawn just south of this scene where a small group of pronghorns were cavorting in a field. Over the next hour, I watched the pronghorns go down for a drink, mingle with the bison for a moment, then return to their prancing - half a mile away and hundreds of feet below me. It was one of those moments...

Then suddenly I heard a bison grunting MUCH louder than the grunts and moans from the herd. I crept around the corner of the little rocky rise I was on to find a big bull staring at me from about 30 feet away. When he finally meandered away I found my way back to the car.

Here's a link to my shots from TR last August:

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

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