NearandFarAZ

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was my first national park. Indeed, a trip to the western-North Dakota park is one of my earliest childhood memories and probably my first family vacation.

I remember piling into the car with my sisters and parents and driving for what seemed like days. Actually, it was a four-hour drive from our home. But from that packed backseat, the flat terrain along Interstate 94 had an endless quality.

Once we arrived, though, I was transfixed by the park – its herds of buffalo, the adorable Prairie Dog Town, and the endless rolling hills of the Badlands.

Later family trips would take me to Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Redwood national parks – all gorgeous and remarkable in their own ways.

I believe those family trips planted the seed for my love of the outdoors. They also made me appreciate the natural beauties that have been preserved all over the country. As an adult, I have gone on to visit many more national parks.

But I’m glad my first park was one that paid tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, the father of so many of America’s national parks, reserves, and national forests. Considered the “conservationist president,” Roosevelt is said to have shaped his views about preservation during his time ranching in the Badlands of North Dakota.

Although I have always loved national parks, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has cut off access to so many of the parks has made me appreciate these national treasures even more.

So, during this National Park Week of 2020, I am highlighting my favorites. Here are 9 national parks that are truly knockouts.

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img_9103“Over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.”
The Grapes of Wrath

For me, any mention of Route 66 always conjures up images of John Steinbeck’s epic novel “The Grapes of Wrath” and the fictional Joad family’s arduous journey from Oklahoma to California.

Over the years, I’ve taken in bits and pieces of the historic highway, always marveling at the narrow two-lane road and its status for decades as America’s main east-west route between Chicago and Santa Monica, California.

A recent re-reading of “The Grapes of Wrath” set me to wondering about Arizona’s remaining sections of the original roadway. And, since I live within a few hours of all of the Arizona towns along the route, I decided to spend the coming weekends retracing the Joads’ route through the state.

Starting with Holbrook in the east, my goal is to head west, like the Joads – taking in Winslow, Two Guns, Flagstaff, Williams, Hackberry, Kingman, and Topock – all the way to the Colorado River on the California border. Of course, along the way, I’ll be stopping at some of the cool roadside attractions and epic hikes as well.

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The third Monday of January – it’s that blue time of the year when I come to terms with a few things: the Christmas tree MUST come down; the sun doesn’t ALWAYS shine in Arizona; and I NEED to plan some adventures.

Last year at this time, I took advantage of mid-January – officially the bluest time of the year – to set some travel goals. Not only did it get me through my least favorite month, but it served as a springboard for some truly awesome trips.

At the time, I was about eight months into my travel and hiking blog, and I had some big plans for the coming year.

Now, it’s time to see how I did on my list of travel resolutions of 2016, and to set some new ones for 2017.

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“Isn’t life good?”

This from a complete stranger deep in the mountains of Montana.

I didn’t miss a beat. “Amazing,” I responded.

Considering the surroundings, our mutual effusiveness didn’t seem strange in the least. At that moment, we were passing through a meadow bordered on each side by hundreds of beargrass blooms. The spiky white flowers cascaded down the valley on one side and up the mountain slope on the other. For a moment, I felt transported to a 3-D scene from “Avatar.”

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Have you heard the bit about the rock and the moss, and how they’re “lichen” their relationship?

“Jammer” Carl has, and he rocked that joke (pardon the pun, but I think Carl would be proud) and a whole lot of others all the way over the Going to the Sun Road.

The jokes and puns were nonstop on my recent Red Bus Tour through Glacier National Park in Montana. I found it charming – just one sweet aspect of the Western Alpine tour I took from Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald Valley to Logan Pass, and back again.

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