I met a charming lady while standing atop what’s left of Glines Canyon Dam – a dam recently removed from Elwha River in Olympic National Park. Sharon Francis and her son were there with a girl who I guess is probably her granddaughter. I offered to take a photo of all three of them together and that led to the discovery that I was talking to the woman who had been Stewart Udall’s speechwriter.
Exploring the Parks
It takes a while to reach Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California, so once you get there plan to spend a few days at least. The following video shows some of the landscapes, above and below water level, that you can explore at Santa Cruz Island.
The motorboat pulls away and disappears across Ross Lake, leaving us in a silence as expansive as the wilderness surrounding us. We shoulder our backpacks and hike up the Big Beaver Trail through a forest drunk on photosynthesis. Ancient cedar and Douglas fir trees rise taller than it seems our necks can tilt backward to view them. We pass red cedars as thick as 15 feet at their base—trees that germinated a millennium ago, around the time that Leif Erikson sailed the East Coast of North America. True to the trail’s name, we pass sprawling beaver ponds.
Visitors come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for many reasons. They want to hike the more than 70 miles of the rugged Appalachian Trail that meander through the park, to camp in its dense forests, to cool off in one of its many streams, or to take a leisurely drive along the scenic Newfound Gap Road that crosses the heart of the park to connect Tennessee with North Carolina. Regardless of the reason, they come—in droves. Every year, 8-10 million people travel to the Smokies, making it the most-visited national park in the country.
Imagine a place in Southern California without freeways; a place without strip malls, smog, and millions of people. Imagine an ocean where the golden fish, the Garibaldi, is prolific with hundreds of other species in an underwater forest of kelp beneath wave-battered sea caves. Imagine a place that is still California as it once was, a century ago, with adobe ranch houses, sweeping vistas of cliffs and beach, mountains and valleys, grasslands and cypress groves, and unbelievable quiet.
I had completely forgotten that Skagway is home to a unit of Klondike Gold Rush before I got off the Alaska Marine Highway ferry M.V. Columbia at the pier in Skagway, Alaska. But there it was right on Main Street – a big Arrowhead outside a large old building labeled Visitor Center.
The two of us had traveled through Idaho on numerous occasions, most often during drives across the scenic northern panhandle on the way from North Cascades National Park to Glacier National Park. We had also followed the Snake River during several trips and visited Craters of the Moon National Monument on at least three occasions. Despite multiple journeys through the state whose license plates have long saluted its “famous potatoes,” we had never visited City of Rocks National Reserve.
It was raining when I got to Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Since I’ve recently had enough rain to keep me satisfied for a good long while, I didn’t go out to the replica of Fort Clatsop where Captains Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the rest of the Corps of Discovery spent an uncomfortable three months in the winter of 1805 and 1806.
We have discovered during years of travel to America’s national parks that many of our most enjoyable visits have occurred at some of the smallest and least-visited units. It is a pleasant experience to visit a park where crowds are sparse, quiet is the norm, and National Park Service employees have time to engage in leisurely discussions.
Starting on the fringe of the Great Plains and climbing through the incomparable mountain scenery of Banff and Jasper national parks, this magnificent drive—one of Canada's best - combines exhilarating vistas of forest, crag, river, and glacier. And autumn colors, crisp, cool days and fewer visitors make this an ideal fall journey.