For my final free-form article, I decided to reflect on my experience in the National Parks. I haven’t been to every Park. But I’ve been to a fair amount of Parks and Monuments. After taking this course and watching The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns, I began thinking back on the Parks. To help illustrate my experience, below is a very cheesy slide-show video I made years ago showing what I experienced on my first trip.
So, ignoring my very cheesy music choices and terrible Windows Movie Maker quality, this video showcases my entire first trip out west, with photographs taken by myself, my dad, and my uncle.
The first part of the trip was a drive toward Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. There were a number of stops along the way. Some rest areas and a motel were necessary stops this time. I took a lot of pictures of random scenery that we drove by as well.
At around 0:38 seconds in the video is where the first glimpses of the parks and monuments start showing up. Here are several shots of Painted Desert. There were a lot of places to overlook the desert. I remember being somewhat hot and miserable here, but it was fantastic to see the different colors in the sand and rocks over the horizon. There were a number of viewing areas to experience this. There were also some old stone structures and Native American drawings. The Visitor’s Center had a mural that was completed as a WPA project.
Next up was Petrified Forest. It was interesting to be able to see all of the fossilized trees spread across the area. It was odd to see these trees like this. They were also fractured and in segments most of the time. I think it was just an odd sight for me at the time. The landscape was also somewhat hilly, so the fossilized trees looked out of place.
After our visit to Petrified Forest, we drove straight toward Meteor Crater. This, to me, is one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. We first have to climb a portion of stairs to get to the visitor’s center. There’s a small museum explaining the crater’s history and some meteorite fragments were on display. But once you walk out onto the viewing platforms, the view is intense. The horizon is just the rim of the crater, and its nothing but rocks, dirt, and open space. At the very bottom of the crater is the only other man-made structure. I still feel a sense of awe looking at that crater and thinking of space object that had caused it.
From there, we went to the Grand Canyon, and camped there for several days. I remember it being incredibly crowded. I also found it interesting how approachable the animals were, due to them being used to people. At one point, my dad took my picture as I sat near the rim of the Canyon. I remember that being one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, since I have a fear of heights. At one point we watched the sunset, which got an applause from the group of people there.
After the Grand Canyon stay was finished, we went to Arches National Park. Similarly, there were a lot of people and some interesting views. One of the more interesting events is photographed at the 3.43 mark of the video, where two guys got a set of bongo drums and played them in one of the hollows, which I could hear echoing from the car (where I stayed for a bit because I was reluctant to move in the rain.)
From Arches, we went to Dinosaur National Monument. We didn’t stay there too long, but we did get to look at the museum and some fossils.
Next, we left for the Grand Tetons, and camped for several days here. Now, being the indoors person that I am and being reluctant to actually travel on this trip in the first place, I found myself getting homesick here, despite how great the scenery was. After successfully catching a fish earlier, I had to just stay in the car for a bit, slightly depressed. I was cheered up after hearing my cousin yell that they had retrieved the hook the fish had swallowed. They had found it after cooking and preparing the fish for eating. Despite not being a camping person, I found the mountains interesting and made a sketch of them. I also had a great time looking around the shops in Jackson Hole.
From the Grand Tetons, we traveled to Old Faithful in Yellowstone. The viewing benches set up around the geyser were crowded, and we had to wait a bit for it to erupt. But seeing it erupt was one of those experiences I can go back and say, “Yeah, that was cool, and I needed to see it.”
Our next stop was a historical twist on the travel route. We visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of that era of American History, but seeing the markers noting where each soldier fell was kind of eerie, and sort of solidified the text-book history into something I could relate to. What I thought was really interesting was the Native American memorial area of Little Bighorn. Even though it’s not as emphasized as the American soldier markers, I find it interesting that the monument recognizes the Native Americans in some way.
From there, we went to Devil’s Tower. It was a location I wanted to see since I’m a fan of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Getting to see the structure that was iconic in that film was a satisfactory experience for me.
Our final major stop was Mount Rushmore. My initial reaction was being somewhat disappointed at the view. When you see the iconic sculptures in photograph reproduction, they’re large and close-up. However, the viewing platform is actually farther away than that.
In the end, though, it was worth while to mug for the camera in the poses of the four Presidents behind us.
After that, we drove back home.
Even though I was reluctant to go on this trip, and even though I was physically uncomfortable in the heat and got a little homesick, this trip was worth-while. After learning more about these Parks’ histories, and after taking this course, I can appreciate them a lot more than I did those years ago. And even after my second trip out there, I still think about my experiences in a new context. I’m grateful that I was able to see these locations, gain experiences of my own from them, and be able to appreciate their cultural, historical, and environmental significance.