In the early 1800s, following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, a host of scouts, soldiers, trappers and traders began venturing from St. Louis, eager to explore and exploit the natural riches to be found in the wilderness of the West. It was America’s new economic frontier. The expansion of the fur trade would introduce new cultures and trading partners to farsighted business entrepreneurs.
Exploring the Parks
Okay, let’s get the most important thing out of the way right off the bat. If you are thinking of camping using a big RV or even a small camp trailer at Caves Creek Campground not far from Oregon Caves, I have some very important advice: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!
Quiet spreads across Big Bend National Park during the winter months, both in the lack of visitors to this grand rumpled slice of parkland in southwestern Texas as well as audibly. Silence pervades the Chihuahuan Desert, both day and night. The wind blows, but it’s felt more than heard. The Chisos Mountains are quiet as well. The cactus and Ocotillo plants look drab and thornier than usual without their brilliant spring blooms to grace and hide the sharp spikes. Cooler temperatures prevail, and occasional snow- or hail-storms punctuate the season.
As I traveled this fall, people I met would ask where I was heading. Whenever I mentioned Lassen in my list, I heard the same refrain from people who had already been there: “You’ll absolutely love it. It’s such a neat and wonderful place.” They were right. I do and it is.
An oddly familiar music greeted me as we pulled up to our reserved site in Gallo Campground, located in a side wing of Chaco Canyon’s buff-colored sandstone cliffs. That sounds like a white-crowned sparrow, I thought as I carried our tent to the 12-foot-square sandbox that would be our sleeping spot for the next four nights. I got out binoculars and, sure enough, there were the telltale white-and-black head stripes that identified it as my favorite mountain songster. But here in the desert? In mid-October? Already this national historical park in New Mexico, which my wife and I and a friend from Albuquerque were visiting for the first time, was surprising me.
Crater Lake sneaks up on you. The mountain holding the lake is just one more of many rather nondescript mounds on the horizon.
I came to Lava Beds expecting . . . . well . . . . lava. But what I found nearly blew what’s left of my little mind. Lava Beds National Monument in north central California near a tiny town called Tule Lake (or Tulelake, it seems to be spelled both ways interchangeably) contains lava all right, and a whole lot more.
It is almost absolutely silent. I sit down on a fallen redwood log and listen. I hear my own breathing. And a woodpecker somewhere far off to my right and what may be some frogs from a direction I can’t pinpoint. A squirrel chitters and a small bird of some kind chips. And all around me are the Trees.
One of my most favorite places on the face of the Earth is Great Basin National Park. It’s one of those Get Out and Do parks, although it certainly has a bunch of stuff for you if you prefer Look and See.
If the mention of Judge Isaac Parker doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you will remember Hang ‘em High, a popular Western from 1968 starring Clint Eastwood. The movie was loosely based on He Hanged Them High, a book by Homer Croy that was, in turn, loosely based on the life and times of Judge Parker. In the movie, Eastwood portrayed a U.S. marshal who brought wrongdoers in to face the judge.