Thursday, April 4, 2013

Road Trip to the National Parks

Read the published version of Charlotte Canelli's column in the April 5, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Nearly a half century ago my family of six took one of our rare vacations and traveled for a month across the United States. This was no easy ride from Berkeley, California to Boston and back again … with four children between the ages of 1 and 15 in the car.

Now I simply can’t imagine how my mother packed all of our clothes and toiletries for the journey, let alone stowed away all the suitcases in the trunk. (Remember, though that a 1960s Oldsmobile possessed a giant trunk.) I am further awed that my mother and step-father organized the trip without the Internet. Nevertheless, AAA was amazingly helpful before the inventions of the GPS and the Google map. These were also the days before handheld devices, iPods and portable DVD players. We amused ourselves with transistor radios, books, maps, writing pads and a plethora of tolerance and patience.

Photos of me taken in Niagara Falls, Washington, DC and the Grand Canyon recorded me as a moderately petulant teenager with a chin-length flip of a haircut and respectable Bermuda shorts. My mother braved the mist and thunder of the falls and the dizzying heights with a perfect and lovely Marilyn Monroe smile. I hid my scowl behind cheap plastic sunglasses and looked bored.

It seems amusing to me now that some of my most-treasured moments of adolescence are particular to that trip. I realize how extraordinarily fortunate I was that my parents had the courage to embark on such an adventure. At the age of 13, I witnessed the hues and textures of the Grand Canyon backlit by a setting sun and the breathtaking roar and power of 150,000 gallons of river cascading over the falls in Niagara, New York. I breathed salty ocean breezes on the Cape Cod National Seashore, dug my feet into the rich soil in the Great Smoky Mountains and funnily enough, I tasted my first fast-food hamburger at a McDonald’s restaurant in Oklahoma City. (Howard Johnson's didn't count as fast-food those days.)

Memories are composed of moments like these, especially on family vacations. I’ve returned time and again to some of those same national treasures and marvel each time, creating more moments like the first.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009) is a six-episode PBS series on DVD by Ken Burns. It was filmed over the course of six years in stunning locales around the country from Alaska (Gates of the Arctic) to Florida (Everglades National Park). While the video series is evidence of the grace and diversity of the land of the United States, it is also an account of people committed to protecting it. There are over 84 million acres in the 400 national sites (parks and monuments) across the United States. While Burns could not include footage of all of those national sites, he did include profiles of each of the major ones.

The Burns documentary dedicates much of the DVDs to the incredible achievement of establishing the system of national parks. Conservationists from all varieties of backgrounds (artists and scientists alike) were devoted to building the park system and maintaining it for generations of children.

While Yellowstone was the first national park (established in 1872), it was President Andrew Jackson who signed legislation to protect the natural thermal springs of Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1832. President Abraham Lincoln signed an act in 1864 giving the land of the Yosemite Valley to the state of California. And it was not until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act that made provision for the NPS (National Park Service).

In 2011, National Geographic completed a 10-DVD series called the “National Parks Collection”. Questar published “America’s 58 National Parks” in 2012 which is a set of three DVDs, each an hour long.

There are also plenty of ways to explore the parks in books. (The Burns video is accompanied by a book by the same name which can also be found as an audio CD and electronic download.) “National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Experiences Beyond the Tourist Trail” (2013, National Geographic) travels 32 of the nation’s parks from an insider’s viewpoint. “Your Guide to the National Parks” (2012) by Michael J. Oswald includes maps, hiking tables, itineraries and family-friendly information for the 58 of the national parks.

“The 10 Best of Everything National Parks: 800 Top Picks from Parks Coast to Coast” (2011) by the National Geographic Society includes top 10 lists for national monuments, national battlefields, scenic trails and the best hikes and attractions for family travel.

“America’s National Parks: An Insider’s Guide to Unforgettable Places and Experiences” (2012) is written by Scott Kirkwood and Elizabeth Meyers. “Complete National Parks of the United States: Featuring 400+ Parks, Monuments, Battlefields, Historic Sites, Scenic Trails, Recreation Areas and Seashores” (2009) by Mel White and “National Audubon Society Guide: Photographing America’s Parks” (2009) by Tim Fitzharris are two more must-reads if you want to explore by easy chair or if you want to plan a trip. “Discover USA’s Best National Parks” (2012), a Lonely Planet travel book includes the 27 top parks with maps for getting around.

Three terrific books for children are “The World’s Most Amazing National Parks” (2012) by Ann Weil, “The National Parks: A Kid’s Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments and Landmarks” (2012) by Erin McHugh, and “The National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast” (2012).

If you want to give your family memories to last a lifetime, plan a visit to a national park or monument in the United States. Our own country is rich in diverse landscapes and places of remarkable historical significance. Get inspired by visiting the library’s website and the link to the Minuteman Library Network to put one of these DVDs or books on hold. You may also call 781-769-0200 and speak to a librarian who will place the request for you.