A National Park Visiting Wish List for 2010

Hikers enjoying Canyonlands. Will it be my turn in May? NPS photo.

As some Traveler readers may recall, I vowed to visit five national parks last year -- Death Valley, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks, plus Cowpens National Battlefield. While I did manage to move the first three over to the plus side of the ledger, the latter two eluded me….. again. That’s embarrassing.

OK; maybe I can forgive myself for not traveling way out to western North Dakota to visit the Theodore Roosevelt, but how on earth do I explain Cowpens? I’ve let another year slip by without visiting an interesting park that’s less than a two-hour drive from my house. There’s no excuse for that, and so I will offer none.

By way of mitigation, I did manage to sneak in one extra West Coast trip that added two outstanding parks to my resume – Redwood National and State Parks and Crater Lake National Park. – in addition to an impromptu detour in Colorado that took me to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (and to new heights of acrophobic anxiety). That’s six new national parks for me in 2009, which is much better than my average. I’ll take it.

As for 2010, well, it looks like this is going to be a “something old, something new” sort of park-visiting year for me. In early April, the Good Lord willing, Colorado Jim and I are going to do a Coastal Carolina Dumb & Dumber trip that will take us from Savannah to Charleston to Kitty Hawk and include visits to Fort Pulaski National Monument, Fort Sumter National Monument, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

I’ve visited all of those parks before, but Jim hasn’t, and that makes all the difference. Anyone who’s ever had a first-timer with him when he’s visited a familiar park can tell you that it adds fresh interest to the experience. I know that I’m really looking forward to revisiting some of the thoughts and feelings that made my own first visit to these places so very special.

The shoe will be on the other foot in May when Traveler editor Kurt Repanshek takes me in tow to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Although I’ve studied and written about each of those fine parks, I’ve yet to set foot in any of them. I’m way overdue.

Summer and fall are spoken for with three 50th high school reunions to attend in Michigan (don’t ask), a South Dakota hunting trip, and other commitments, so that will pretty much wrap it up. Except for this: I will visit Cowpens National Battlefield this year – no ifs, ands, buts, maybes, or other weaselspeak.

Adding it up, I see five new parks and five old friends on the near horizon. A guy could do a lot worse.

Postscript: Let’s say I had visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison when it was still designated as a national monument, maybe during a trip taken while I was in Colorado for a national conference back in the 1980s. Would I still, in good conscience, be able to count a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park as a brand new addition to my resume? This is purely hypothetical, of course.


You ask theoretically if you could count Black Canyon of the Gunnison among the NP notches on your gun. Sure, you've been there. That's the point, not what they call the place.

We've been to over 200 of the NPS sites, including all but 8 of the National Parks (Cuyahoga, Biscayne, Am. Samoa, Virgin Islands, Channel Islands, Lake Clark, Kobuk Valley, & Gates of the Arctic.) We visited Black Canyon and Congaree before they attained their current status and have no qualms about counting them. Further, we've spent good time in each of them, usually at least a couple of days, except one: Wrangell-St.Elias. We had planned a good day there at least, but weather and road conditions combined to confine our stay to a few minutes in the visitors' center before it closed.

Great places, and our salute to the dedicated rangers who also wear our country's uniform.

I agree with you in principle, Roger, but gosh darn it, counting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park as a national park that's new to my personal list gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction. My wife is fond of saying "It's my diet, and I say that's a small potato." To paraphrase, "It's my life list, and I say that's an NPS unit I haven't visited before." Silly? Of course! But it is what it is. BTW, contemplating your own national park visiting experiences leaves me green with envy and just a tad puzzled. Given the tremendous breadth of your resume, how on earth did Biscayne and Cuyahoga manage to end up as unfinished business?

We thought about Biscayne while in the Everglades, but we're not snorkelers or into water sports, so we figured we'd just have to fight out way through Miami traffic for no reason than to get into the park boundaries and say we've been there. We couldn't really enjoy its wealth. Cuyahoga: well, too new and we just want to avoid urban environments. Our traveling days are pretty well over now -- certainly our hiking days, and that's what we spent our time doing in those wonderful places. We live in eastern NC.

Bob, perhaps you can forgive yourself, but I won't let you off the hook for missing Theodore Roosevelt. It's the Plains' version of Congaree - underappreciated and full of surprises. (...except with far fewer cypress trees.) You must keep that one on your life to-do list!

Gosh, Kirby, I feel so much better now that you've rubbed it in. Thanks a lot, pal. Anybody out there want to pile on?

I really liked Wright Brothers. I knew it was going to be informative, but still I underestimated it.

I agree that the Wright Brothers Memorial offers more than meets the eye, Erik. It's been renovated since I last saw it, so I'm looking forward to seeing the improvements.

I have both plans and hopes for the coming year to add stamps to my passport.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Crater Lake National Park

National Park of American Samoa

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Bob, I think you'll love Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. Then again how could you not love a NP in the first place. I made it out there this past August as well as Bryce NP, Zion NP, and Cedar Breaks NM.

As a student hire in the Smokies I've got a lot of good stuff going for me. One being I still get to have a Spring Break thanks to an amazing supervisor. Yes, she might read this but she already knows how much I enjoy working for her.

Plans for March are to head back to Utah again and revisit Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. This time I'm not headed to the Island in the Sky but I've got my eyes set on the Needles and Horseshoe Canyon instead. If time allows I'm hoping to head down to Hovenweep NM, Natural Bridges NM, perhaps a boat tour on Lake Powell, and then up to Capitol Reef NP to check off all the NPs in Utah.

My first trip out was amazing and the Rangers I met in the Moab area were phenomenal.

Thank you for mentioning Redwood National and State Parks-it gets very little coverage on your site.
I love to read your BLOGS-keep up the great work!

While not a National Park I highly recommend taking in the views from Dead Horse Point north of Moab a ways..

RW, I'll bet you'd get more people interested in Dead Horse Point if you told them exactly where it was in that vicinity that the producers of Thelma and Louise filmed the girls' memorable drive off the cliff and into the abyss.

Dead Horse Point, simply beautiful!

In June of 2006 we did a SW trip for our daughter's High School graduation taking in ARCHES, BRYCE, GRAND CANYON & MESA VERDE (their Centennial). We hiked the Devil's Garden Trail (in 100 degree heat!) in Arches and it was unbelievable! The views of the La Sal Mountains, hiking over Fins, seeing natural arches; it was stunning! Another must, take the hike and catch sunset over Delicate Arch! The Park Avenue Trail is a short but beautiful hike (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was partly filmed there!). You won't regret it!
Connie Hopkins

My wife and I went to Great Sand Dunes back in the mid 1990's when it was a national monument. I now count it as visiting a national park. The fact that it [was redesignated National Park] after we visited there is besides the point.

Think Shafer Trail under Dead Horse Point
Moab Area Movie Locations Auto Tours (.pdf file)
Hang out in Moab long and one will hear many wild stories and be given directions to a myriad of amazing areas where films were made.
One of my favorites is the story of the car commercial with a scantily dressed model perched atop a local rock.
She had to spend the night because high winds kept the helicopter from retrieving her until the next morning.

I remember seeing some group of bluish looking buildings from Dead Horse Point State Park along the Colorado River. On the way back to Moab, we had to wait because the Grand County Sheriff Dept had blocked the road back to Moab. We politely asked what was going on, and apparently a crew was filming a TV commercial. All we could see driving back was a group with a cooler, although it could have just been beverages for the crew.

Ranger Will wrote:

As a student hire in the Smokies I've got a lot of good stuff going for me. One being I still get to have a Spring Break thanks to an amazing supervisor. Yes, she might read this but she already knows how much I enjoy working for her.

Very diplomatic, Will. If you decide not to pursue a career in the Park Service, you should consider working as a spokesweasel for a government agency, say the BLM.

Thanks for the enthusiastic feedback on Arches, et al. By all accounts, I'm in for a treat.

If Kurt doesn't take you up the La Sal mountain loop while you're visiting Arches & Canyonlands, he's grossly negligent. I prefer a "half-loop" going out the back of Sand Flats, then coming out Castle Valley. While you're there, spend the couple of hours to hike up to Fisher Towers, even if it is BLM and not NPS.

I get to Canyonlands every year; I'd like to add a few days at Capital Reef. My goal for Capital Reef includes going out the back to visit Grand Staircase Escalante NM, even though it is administered by BLM, and some of the northwest shore of Glenn Canyon. I'm also angling to get to Olympic, North Cascades, & Mount Ranier, but that's work-related. But first I need to swing by a small, underfunded NPS unit to purchase my new annual pass and give them the local unit cut of the price, probably either Florissant Fossil Beds or Sand Creek Massacre.

I don't yet know what Kurt's got in mind, tomp, but those sound like fine ideas. Thanks for the suggestions. Buying your annual pass at an underfunded park sounds like a fine idea, too, but I think the passes can only be purchased at parks that charge an entrance fee. If that's the case, Florissant Fossil Beds is still in play, but Sand Creek is not. In any event, Sand Creek is closed for winter and won't reopen until April 1st.