I went from 0 to 5 pretty quickly this year, visiting National Parks for the first time from the east to the west side of the US. Some made me gasp, some made me cry, and all of them helped me learn a little more about myself.
1. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The grandest view you ever did see. Met some people who were back for the 6th time, and met others that referred to it as a giant hole in the ground. Also met some elk in the parking lot. This canyon was massive, and despite the giant crowd behind me, as soon as I got to the first overlook, it was so. silent. Beautiful, overwhelming and awesome! Isn’t it one of the seven wonders of the world? It should be. And for someone that likes the mountains so much, no issues with chairlifts and gondolas, I was absolutely shaking as we stood on the edge for a photograph, frozen trying to hike around rocks and couldn’t look at other people daintily hopping through crevices. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t sitting on a chair with a flask full of fireball with soft powder (east coast ice?) beneath me.
2. Shenandoah National Park, VA
Nearest, so the dearest to my heart. Only a 3 hour drive away, I can get a glimpse of beautiful Shenandoah whenever I fancy, without layovers at an airport. Lots of bear press here, I saw my first one up close here, and yes, I must admit I embarrassingly almost pulled what is called a “bear jam” along Skyline Drive. Sorry!
4. Petrified Forest National Park & Painted Desert, AZ
Definitely the most colorful! Purples and blues you didn’t think existed in nature exist here. Gorgeous dunes and rocks of pink and magenta, and the petrified wood was honestly breathtaking with yellow, red, green quartz. But, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that it was all a joke and these ancient, dinosaur trodden logs were just here because someone put them there. I mean, this used to be a rainforest… I can’t fathom it.
4. Saguaro National Park, AZ
My least favorite, but beautiful in its own way. It was surprisingly barren, and by they time this was made into a national park, many of the giant saguaros were old, and then either ravaged by fire or snow (can’t remember the sign), probably both, because AZ weather is crazier than you’d think. However, I did still find something about myself there. I felt bad that I thought this way, that I should be grateful to be in one of what our country has deemed National status. But I hated hiking the desert.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Now this, this place gives you the feels, hands down. Estes Park, one of the larger mountain towns to stay in near one of the many entrances of the park, had the most astounding views I have ever seen in my life. I literally cried out loud in my rental car as I ascended into town. And the next day, I sat around Dream and Emerald lake for about 3 hours. I was in love. I learned that I actually will altitude sickness, even if I didn’t feel effects in Winter Park 3 years ago. Tip: Don’t drink so much water that you flush your electrolytes and feel worse, get Gatorade in there. And Advil will save you. Anyway, highly recommend and can’t wait to explore again.
Unfortunately, that’s all for now. I will probably visit Shenandoah again before the year is up, but I think next year only holds more opportunities. Here’s to 101 years (and many more)!