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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.


Gates of the Arctic is truly an amazing park. I vividly recall the trip with Joe McGinnis and the others in our party. I was privileged to be able to spend several years hiking, floating, dog mushing and flying in and around the Gates. I enthusiastically recommend it for those who want to immerse themselves in a wilderness setting. Winter travel in the park requires some in-depth planning and preparation, and you should have some experience in cold weather camping. Anyone thinking of trying it may want to hire an experienced guide and even take advantage of dog team trips offered by local guide/mushers. Back in the mid 1960s and 70s, very few people traveled into the central Brooks Range. My wife and I hiked the area for several years before we had our first on-the-ground encounter with other hikers. It turned out to be a small group led by a friend of ours.

Ray Bane

Well, Rick, I do have a friend up that way who operates a skytrekking operation. Maybe I could get him to cut me a deal. The trip I have in mind would still be pretty expensive, since I'd like to see some other parks and float some rivers as well. Will you lend me seven thousand dollars?


I would urge you to rethink your A-list and add the Gates. It is one of the most breath taking areas in the System. Other than the periodic airplane flying above, it hasn't changed that much since Bob Marshall went to visit there because it was the last blank spot on the topographic maps of the era. We did a combo 5-day hike and 8-day float trip in the park. The wildness was magnificent.

Rick Smith

Jim, I had to smile at your tongue in cheek suggestion that I should put no stock in those visitor statistics. When you can make undercounting errors involving several orders of magnitude and still be dealing with negligible numbers, that's some mighty small visitation! Seriously, though, it's awfully unlikely that I'll ever see Gates of the Arctic. It's just too darn far, and like most other people, I'd rather use my limited time & money to visit places on my A-list here in the Lower 48.

Well, I have to admit the earliest I spent more than only a few hours on the ground in the bush in Gates of the Arctic was early March. The biggest difference being the abundant light in March, compared to nearly complete darkness in early January !

However, I did spend several days in the Native village within the park boundary in January, and it was sort of wonderful. As Ray Bane was quoted in Joe McGinniss' book "Going to Extremes:" "WINTER IS THE TRUTH ABOUT ALASKA" ! But I must tell the truth, I've done nothing cross-country in January.

Go, Bob: you'll love it. Bring skiis and a Cessna (also on skiis).

And, don't believe those visitor statistics. The park service has no way of knowing how many people are actually in the park. They just know who reports in with the rangers. In a park 100 miles by 140 miles, you might find as many as 30, and start feeling real crowded.

Uh...... I hope you're not suggesting that I visit Gates of the Arctic this month, JimFrom NewYork. January visitation for years 2003 through 2007 COMBINED was 25, and in three of those years there were no January visits at all.

Gates of the Arctic National Park, with the adjoining Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, is THE park to see if you have not yet.

It is the most extensive Wilderness national park in America. It has the headwaters with watersheds of any number of arctic and subarctic rivers. It has beautiful arctic valleys and gorgeous scenery. You can hike or kayak for weeks, sometimes without seeing any other party of visitors. Brown and black bear, caribou, wolves and more.

Thanks for the suggestions, SaltSage. I'm afraid that Colorado National Monument will be out of reach on this particular trip. My host and driver, who lives in Nederland (home of the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival), wants to head straight to the southwestern reaches of Colorado so we can be sure to have time for our primary park destinations as well as the Silverton-Durango steam train (for which we've already made reservations). Hovenweep may be doable, and I've always wanted to see Square Tower. I'll definitely look into that.

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