More and more often these days, I feel the need to get away from people, the internet, the news, and the sinking feeling that America is, well, sinking. Grumpy old man syndrome is setting in pretty early I guess, and I’ve got to do something to re-boot on occasion. Fortunately one thing we do still have is a set of National Parks, and I’m pretty excited that I got to spend a few days in one. This time, it was Rocky Mountain National Park, which was wonderfully unpopulated except for the busiest trailheads. There’s an old cabin up on a cliff near the Moraine Park visitor center. I’m pretty sure if I ever save the Earth from an asteroid or aliens or something, Bruce Willis style, that’s what I’d ask the President for…
I was staying in a suburb just north of Denver, directly behind a Starbucks, a mile from Hooters, and zero feet from what seemed like an eternal traffic jam every time I left the hotel. I had planned on scouting out places for a possible relocation, but with Colorado legalizing drugs and criminalizing weapons (my livelihood) that seemed ill-advised. With some days to kill, we headed to Estes Park, the small mountain town in Estes Valley between Roosevelt National Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). In the summer, Estes Park is a royal pain, literally shoulder-to-shoulder on all the sidewalks, long waits at any restaurant, and traffic seems like it never moves. In the winter, it’s a sleepy town with good food and cool local businesses right outside of the park. Fifteen minutes and one bathroom break at the Visitor’s Center later, we were on a snowy trail headed up a ridge looking up at Long’s Peak and an awesome panorama of Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, and Otis Peak. The plan had been a recce of routes for a traverse of the ridgeline connecting these 12K-ish peaks, or a possible trip up Long’s, but scheduling and weather conditions didn’t match up to make it happen on this stay. Nevertheless, it was a great couple of days, easy walking, and some easily gained/much needed solitude. And I’m not ashamed to say, more yak burgers than a cardiologist would advise at Grubsteak in Estes.
The National Parks were a hard-fought victory for conservationists fairly early in American history. Thanks to their hard work we’ve got a tremendous resource, open and accessible to everyone. It’s $80 for a pass allowing access to all of them for a year, which is almost certainly the best bargain in America. Starting with Yellowstone in 1872, the National Park System now includes 59 National Parks and a total of 398 sites administered by the National Park Service. The National Park Service was formed in 1916 to oversee this great national treasure. They preserve the best of America as seen by it’s founders, explorers, and citizens, while making it remarkably accessible to all visitors. I’ve been lucky enough to visit over a dozen of the parks, and have yet to be disappointed by the staff, and the ability of the Park Service to find people who genuinely love their jobs.
Disney World is so expensive I don’t know how anyone can afford it, and to me spending a week at the beach with all the other vacationers in the world is about as relaxing as driving a nail through my kneecap. That’s not to say the parks don’t get crowded, but the beauty of them is there is plenty of room for everyone if you’re willing to work your way into it, leaving the most popular routes or venturing farther from the main entrances. For a long time I’ve thought the National Parks were America’s best gift to itself, and I’m still pretty sure of that one today. There is one near you, and making a trip on a shoestring budget is easily do-able. They are your tax dollars at work, and for once you’ll get your money’s worth.
*For anyone interested in the history of the National Park System and it’s founders, check out the Ken Burns documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
Visit www.nps.gov for more info on the parks, prices, seasons, accessibility, and directions. The NPS is very helpful towards visitors.