PREFACE: Don and Shelly Hafner (of http://59nationalparks.com/) have set out on an epic journey- one that many people only dream of; To visit all 59 national parks within 59 weeks. We were so inspired by their quest, we asked them to write a guest post about why they love the parks and what inspires them when they visit a park. Here is their story:
Many people and organizations have asked us why we love the National Parks. It turns out that we had never addressed this question in writing, so we committed to writing about it as Eastern National’s guest. Readers know that we do love the Parks to undertake what we have. The reasons we are doing this are complex and (we think) compelling.
Our reasons for planning our 59 National Parks were ultimately fueled by our love as husband and wife. We found so much common ground and enjoyment together visiting the National Parks. There were so many things that we enjoyed doing together at the Parks, such as hiking, photographing and learning new things. When we first met, we spent many evenings in Rocky Mountain National Park picnicking and enjoying the wild life. Ultimately our love of the Parks is personal.
These are the characteristics of the National Parks that we want to call attention to and that we personally love and value:
We believe that America’s National Parks are manifestations of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Take, for example, our freedom to travel to them–it is a birthright all Americans enjoy. History teaches us that special places were often reserved for the elite of society. That is not true in America. Our National Parks are just that–ours. Perhaps that is why there was so much unhappiness last year when our government enforced a shutdown of the Parks. In addition, we are free to travel to them. We enjoy the freedom to travel in the United States which is not a universal right throughout the world.
Do your family and friends humor you when you show them pictures of your children or grandchildren? How about pictures of your dogs? Are they just being nice? Perhaps. Show them a picture of Half Dome, Devils Tower or Old Faithful and they are involved, perhaps enchanted about the idea of visiting the spot. We are drawn to sharing the experience of National Park visitation through photography with others as a result.
The National Parks offer opportunities to practice so many different kinds of photography in one place that few other venues offer. In one day at Yellowstone National Park it is possible to photograph Old Faithful, trout fishing in the Lamar River, roaming bison, and goofy family pictures around the evening campfire. As much as we enjoy where we live, we cannot accomplish that at home. In addition, National Parks provide for photographic diversity. We can take photos of sweeping landscapes, wildlife, seascapes, and the power of nature in action. The National Parks are also great places to hone and improve our abilities with Macro photography. The great thing is, anybody else can too.
The Ken Burns film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea brilliantly and beautifully presented how the fabric and history of America was influenced by the National Park movement. We value all 401 of the National Park units because they tell the story of our country. The movement to preserve special places didn’t start in 1872 when President Grant signed the law that made the area a public park. His act was in fact a realization of a dream and a movement shared by the American people. As an aside, it is worthy to note that the area we know as Hot Springs National Park was set aside as a “public reservation” in 1832. Our National areas are rich with history. Many, such as George Washington Carver National Monument and the USS Arizona Memorial are primarily devoted to American history. We recommend that our readers never skip the Visitor’s Center or drive by a sign that beckons you to a Park Service site. They are always worth the stop.
In our experience, the National Parks are great places for families with children. We have never heard someone to tell a child to be quiet at a National Park! Our boys still talk about our trip to Arches and Yellowstone which was about twenty years ago. We notice well-behaved children learning about and showing respect for nature when we visit the National Parks. The Parks provide activities for children that they may not have at home such as snorkeling at the Virgin Islands National Park or watching a lava flow at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Kids are always captivated by the wildlife.
We notice that kids are not preoccupied as much with social media when we see them at a Park. Expect a few complaints about the number of “bars” they have though. The National Parks have programs for those children who want a social media experience and, of course, there are lots of apps for the parks. The Park Service has a Junior Ranger program at every site which kids enjoy. Eastern National administers the Passport To Your National Parks® program, which kids are crazy about- We are too.
The National Parks offer something for everyone! For visitors who just want to park and look, it’s not only okay—it’s encouraged. No one is second guessed or judged for their actions. From that jumping off point there is so much to see and do at our National Parks. At the Parks it is possible to go fishing, rock climbing and snow shoeing in the same day. Visitors can go horseback riding, birding (try it—it’s harder than you think), or just sit in quiet reflection. We find that we spend much of our time at National Parks in quiet reflection. There is just something about being awestruck while being at peace at the same time.
So, why do we love the National Parks? We are blessed that the Parks have helped us to come closer together and to increase our love for each other. We can think of nothing better.
-Don & Shelly Hafner