It seemed like a miracle, but finally I had reached the top. Looking out around me, I was in complete awe of the towering cliffs and the canyon open before me. My feet were tired, but it didn’t seem to matter as I stared at the beautiful red rocks surrounding me. I had just finished climbing and hiking Angel’s Landing, a trip I agreed to when my roommates from the Utah Shakespeare Festival asked to join them and a few friends in Zion National Park. At first I was eager and up for any adventure, but little did I realize how out of shape I was and the difficulty of Angel’s Landing. Holding onto chains and climbing the rough rocks after hiking numerous switchbacks, I wondered if there would ever be an end. Luckily, I didn’t give up and even after I lost my toenail, I still continued to visit U.S. National Parks. But my journey to visit U.S. National Parks didn’t begin at Angels Landing. For years I had been visiting National Parks including Grand Canyon, Colorado National Monument, and dozens of historic sites on the east coast. Although some of this enthusiasm came from desire to see all of the sites in my Passport book, it has become even more of a priority because of the recent 100 year celebration of the National Park Service. In honor of this centennial, I’m sharing a few insights and reasons about why you should visit National Parks:
- See what conservation and preservation has done for the country over the years. In high school when the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was established by President Bill Clinton, many of my fellow Utah classmates rejected the idea because they supported the land’s previous purpose for coal mining and resented the Antiquities Act of 1906. We were asked to write letters to the president in class, and I quickly realized I was the only person who supported the decision. The teacher immediately asked my opinion and I felt my tongue tie itself in knots, realizing I was the only one who felt it would be beneficial for generations to come. Although there was contention 10 years later between environmentalists and locals as cited in a New West article, there are still some facts about National Parks that illustrate the long-term financial impacts on Kane and Garfield counties with 91% of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitors stopping in these counties and spending $20.6 million at 21 different kinds of businesses. While the road to long-term sustainable economic development from tourism takes time, as the Washington Monthly illustrates, National Parks provide more potential for long-term employment and financial stability than activities like coal mining. This article also points out that in 2011, the National Parks Service found that spending from visitors supported 251,600 jobs, $30.1 billion in sales, $9.34 billion in labor, and $16.5 billion in value. Whether or not you agree with the Antiquities Act or President Clinton’s decision, there are beneficial results to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument beyond environmental conservation.
- Learn lessons about American history and hopefully learn from the mistakes that were made. When it comes to visiting a National Park or Monument, I always feel as though I’m being given the opportunity to experience America’s past. I saw where pioneers foraged a new path in Nebraska, but I also saw where America’s Cold War fear resided at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site that left me unsettled, and I wondered if an agreement could be reached when it came to treatment of the Native Americans at Devil’s Tower. From the mistakes we’ve made I can only hope more Americans realize how we can learn from them in the future with compromises and respect. I’m beginning to think more politicians need to visit National Parks.
- Remember what makes America great. When it comes to talking about America’s success, it’s often described with financial accomplishments or showcased with bright lights and towering skyscrapers. What we often forget is what makes America great is its natural landscapes and wildlife. I haven’t traveled extensively as others, but I haven’t seen red rock canyons like I have at Zion National Park and I have yet to see a mix of grassland and desert outside of Badlands National Park. There may be similar places in the world, but nothing so far has compared. When it comes to visitors from other countries planning a trip to America I don’t suggest New York, Miami, L.A. or Las Vegas, I suggest Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain National Park, that’s where the real America is.
Although I was ill-prepared for my journey to reach the peak of Angel’s Landing, there is no way I could have been prepared for my view at the top. It turned out the strenuous journey was definitely worth the end and it inspired me to keep going. I sometimes feel as though I relate to my home country with appreciation, but always with a sense of confusion at some of our actions and decisions. It wasn’t until I continued my journeys to National Parks that I felt a sense of something different: admiration.
My Goals for National Park Visits in 2016:
Additional National Park Resources
Why do you think it’s important to visit National Parks? What National Parks in the U.S. and in the world are your favorites?
This post is a part of Travel Tuesday hosted by Lauren on Location, Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox, and Weekend Wanderlust hosted by A Brit and A Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Casual Travelers, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer.