We all complain about taxes. I’m sure plenty of mine are spent on things I would rather not support, like war and the salaries of congresspeople who were already millionaires before they got elected. I don’t get to choose, but if I did, I would sure send a big part of my average tax dollar to the National Park Service. I spent some time recently visiting national parks and I have to say, those places gave me quite a return on my investment.
The Grand Canyon was more magical than Disney World and a $30.00 ticket gave us access to the park for a week. There are buses that run from one point to another along the South Rim, every ten or fifteen minutes all day long. We could jump off one at a point of interest along the route and catch another as soon as we finishing taking pictures and saying, “Wow!” We didn’t have to pay for the bus rides. They were included in the entry fee.
It felt a little like a theme park, in that there were shops and restaurants and lodges and souvenirs and people speaking every language under the sun, but the main attraction – the thing we all came to see – was absolutely real. No fiberglass trees, no CGI; it’s an actual natural wonder and it’s HUGE! I gasped every time I saw it and I never got over it.
The Grand Canyon alone would have justified the two-week road trip, but we also saw a number of other national parks and they were all gasp-worthy. The Petrified Forest National Park went on for miles and miles and included the Painted Desert. We drove the twenty-eight mile route from the Petrified Forest Visitor Center to the Painted Desert Visitor Center and stopped along the way for short hikes among the ancient trees and colorful geological formations. Sometimes it felt like a stroll on another planet, the landscape was so strange and alien.
We visited Arches and Canyonlands in one day and that’s better than not seeing them at all, but it didn’t give us enough hiking time in either park. That was okay with me, actually – I had picked up a cold in the Grand Canyon and was happy to sit in the shade while my husband hiked the steeper trails. These parks were hot in September. The signs tell you to take plenty of water with you when you hit the trails and they are not kidding. The sights are worth the effort, even for someone with a cold, but no one should try the trails without a full water bottle. Maybe two. I’m telling you, it’s dry out there in Utah.
Our last national park stop was at Mesa Verde in Colorado. This park protects cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans and is the largest archeological preserve in the United States. They offer a number of guided tours of the many cliff dwelling sites, but only one of them operates after Labor Day, so that’s why we ended up touring Balcony House. It was amazing, but it required all of us to climb a thirty-two foot ladder that was attached to the cliff wall. Firmly attached, mind you – perfectly safe, but it sure felt scary as I was climbing it.
Yes, I climbed this ladder. Now I’m pretty sure I can do anything.