If you’ve followed along closely you may have noticed a critical note here or there when it comes to our relationship with nature. Most often I feel pretty disheartened about how we humans treat our environment, but recently I got a little perspective.
You see, we’re currently not in the U.S.
Yep, the national park quest is on a tiny hiatus as we pause for the holidays and spend some much needed family time in Colombia, where Andres is from.
We were in the Virgin Islands NP and couldn’t help but make a small jump across the Caribbean Sea. Woops! Funny thing is, we are going to visit a national park in Colombia so technically we’re still in quest mode. The American version continues in January.
Time away from the U.S. has provided space and distance to reflect on our last eight months touring the country. One thing we realize is how fortunate we are to have a strong national park system, and how important it is to protect the vibrant outdoorsy side of our culture.
So in the spirit of this holiday season, here are 10 reasons to thank parks, in 10 photos:
1. Preservation of history, from which we learn.
Parks preserve places like this, places few people know about. Dry Tortugas National Park is mostly ocean with a few keys 70 miles off the coast of Key West in South Florida. The gem of it all is an old fort dating from the 1860s. Soldiers struggled in this very, very remote location.
2. Access into wilderness, and protection of that wilderness.
Speaking of remote, parks let you get into some our wildest corners for connection with our natural world. You can find helpful signage even on dirt roads like this in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
3. Excellent roadways through tough terrain.
The infrastructure of our park system is incredible – miles of roadway through often dangerous mountains and desert give access to places we can’t take for granted. This shot is from Mesa Verde National Park.
4. Hundreds of Visitor Centers – Free learning centers.
With infrastructure in mind, how about all those incredible visitor centers? Most parks have more than one, and they all feature some kind of learning opportunity, museum or art exhibit, film, and other interesting features to learn about our great outdoors and fellow species. Here is one beautiful visitor center in Yellowstone National Park.
5. Protection of our nearly extinct national mammal.
Can’t mention Yellowstone without appreciating this lovely lady, reason #5 we are thankful for the park system. Without protection efforts, our ancient national mammal would likely be extinct by now. The only truly wild bison exist within the boundaries of Yellowstone.
6. Protection of all species, not just the cute ones.
Other ancient animals like the Florida alligator exist in abundance within the safety of Everglades National Park. Their presence reminds us how important it is to protect ALL species, not just the cute and furry ones. (This arm is NOT a good idea by the way, and it’s not our arm).
7. Parks (try to) teach people how to behave with our natural world.
Parks are also places where people are criticized for bugging animals, and for that we are grateful. Rangers had a hard time keeping folks away from elk in this Yellowstone scene.
8. Access into darkest places on Earth.
The paved path into the depths of a cave should say enough: parks work hard to give us access into worlds inside the Earth, like in this Wind Cave National Park scene.
9. Maintained passage through our sacred places.
But they also work hard to keep us safe and on track in forests. Thousands of miles of trails are thoughtfully maintained by dedicated staff and countless volunteers. We take them for granted, but without trails we wouldn’t have our moments of peace and epiphanies. This photo is from backcountry in Rocky Mountain National Park.
10. Supporting a culture of outdoor appreciation.
Quite significantly, the parks support a culture of exploration, stewardship and outdoor recreation. Hundreds of secure and maintained campgrounds guarantee a safe time beneath stars and treetops. We definitely shouldn’t take U.S. campgrounds for granted.