Crown Jewels of the USA

Independence Day took place in the midst of my return road trip and it happened to be the day I planned to spend time in two of our nation’s beautiful, preserved parks. I dragged my mother first to Grand Canyon National Park, a place I’ve only seen in movies and television shows.

I had booked us a night at a campsite in Kaibab National Forest, but through the blurry and dusty dusk, searching for a campground on rocky roads, we gave up. Though we spent money on a site, we made friends with another lost couple of people and set up our tents together in the fee-free zone. It would have been nice to know about the free camping before I wasted money on a reservation. After a night of barely sleeping, we packed up and hit the road toward the canyon which is supposed to beat all others.

My borrowed tent in Kaibab National Forest

We first viewed the Grand Canyon from Mather Point, near the closest VC of the South Rim park entrance. Though the canyon was quite grand, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed. I expected something more like Bryce Canyon with hoodoos and windows, but the terrain was pretty plain and the colors were shockingly brown. Now, I didn’t expect blues or pinks, but I thought there would be something non-brown. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and I greatly appreciate the work that is done to preserve and protect it. However, I feel that maybe some of the Grand Canyon attention should go to the other smaller, prettier canyons.

Me on the edge of the Grand Canyon

We spent some time driving to the various viewpoints in the park before heading out to our next destination. I awoke from my car-nap just in time to arrive at Petrified Forest National Park. I was delighted to discover that in my minimal research, I failed to learn that the Painted Desert runs into the park. Though the VC was not large or very helpful, we made our way from one end to the other with our maps and little knowledge of what we were looking at. I was loving the dry, desert heat with the backdrop of badlands, but my mother refused to get out of the air-conditioned car more than once.

Petrified Forest National Park

We kind of rushed through, but I enjoyed the colorful hills and wide expanses more than the brown depths of the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s only me, but color excites me on a deep level.

We had left early the morning of the 4th to beat the crowds to the canyon, but I was shocked to discover that not many people were taking advantage of this historically significant day to visit their local paradise. File this away for future reference: the 4th of July is a good day to visit typically-packed parks with relatively small crowds.

These two were my mother’s first National Parks and I can see that without prior knowledge about the NPS or the significance of the lands we are seeing, it is less exciting for her. I hope that more Americans can experience the beauty of their National Parks and can learn a few things about their long history and continuous conservation efforts. The mission of the NPS has two parts: 1) preserve natural and cultural resources; 2) make areas accessible for visitor use. The lands are here for us to enjoy, so take advantage!

A greener Grand Canyon

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