Editor’s note: Akron Art Museum board member Sue Klein has visited—and photographed—every single one of the national parks. She wrote the following account of her journeys for the Garden Club of America’s Focus magazine. The GCA generously granted permission to republish Klein’s article in conjunction with Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service. Organized in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the NPS, Our Land is on display through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery.
by Sue Klein, Akron Art Museum Board Member
Visiting the national parks took us to some unimaginable places in our own magnificent country. My husband George and I had visited 28 of the national parks when we decide to go for broke and visit all the other 39 (includes three added along the way). To plan our visits, we just figure out how to get there and where to stay and do the rest when we arrive on site. Usually I take a tripod, but rarely, if ever, use it–we are moving light and flexible. I look for the non-iconic shots (but truthfully I do shoot Old Faithfuls and Half Domes). In the following journal just one or two adventures or experiences per park are mentioned. This is only a taste.
The essence of this place is wolves, moose, granite, water, prehistoric copper mining pits (1500 B.C.), a boreal forest, bogs and plant diversity. This 209-square-mile park is an international biosphere reserve, encompassing a remote and primitive wilderness archipelago on Lake Superior. It consists of one big island and several smaller ones off the Minnesota/Canadian border. A three-hour boat ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan, is our gateway to the park.
We explore only one little section of the main island and nearby Raspberry Island. Nevertheless, we get a taste of everything except for moose and wolves. But, miraculously, in the evening a professor lectures on wolves and moose and how they keep each other in check. Park talks are something we always look forward to and this one is especially interesting. Our basic lodging accommodation is the only place with beds and plumbing in the park. Otherwise it’s tents.
On our second day, we hear a big storm with big winds is headed our way. We opt to get out of Dodge before the storm hits and hop the evening boat on calm waters back to Copper Harbor. Isle Royale is a place to come back to, maybe to stay in a tent and just soak in all the goodies in this small jewel of a park. Perhaps we would even see a moose or wolf!
This park, our second to last, is just east of Carmel and Monterey. In early January 2013, I tell the superintendent of our Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we are about to complete our quest to visit the 58 national parks. “Oh no,” says he. “As of last week there is a new one,” and off we go to Pinnacles.
My sister and brother-in-law join us for this adventure. Pinnacles, a combination of volcanic and sedimentary rock, is part of a 23-million-year-old volcano 195 miles to the southeast near Los Angeles. The giant San Andreas Fault split the volcano, and the western part crept north, carrying the rock pinnacles.
The Junior Canyon loop trail from the west side of the park winds up to the top and goes back down a different way. It’s like a Disney ride with every imaginable feature squeezed in along the way: huge rock formations, backlit trees, tunnels through huge rock formations, narrow boards bridging rock ravines, rickety steep metal steps with a surprise lake at the top, scenic vistas from the top and the pièce de resistance: California condors with 10-foot wingspans circling at the summit.
I could walk this 4.2-mile trail every day and never get tired of it. It’s spectacular. In fact, I recommend this as my #1 favorite hike in all the parks… really!
California, July 2014
“No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir. For me it’s about soaring trees, high waterfalls, huge granite walls, snow, meadows, the intimate valley and my memories. This is my home stomping ground for national parks.
We have been here before with our children, but this time we include our four grandchildren. It’s our victory lap celebration, as well as our 50th wedding anniversary. We expect it to be hot and jammed, and it is. However, somehow visitors have a reverence for this place and it‘s very peaceful, like being in a magic bubble. For four days we play in the valley on the river, in the visitor centers, on the trails and on the boulders. Part of the family goes rock climbing in the high country.
For me there is a heart-stopping “Aha!” moment. Part of our three-generation group drives up to Glacier Point (elev. 7,214 ft.) overlooking the valley. As we drive around a corner we are suddenly up close and personal with the iconic Half Dome (think Ansel Adams). There it is, at eye level across the valley, it is so close. I can’t take my eyes off old Half Dome. It pulls me with an irresistible force. I am speechless! I can still conjure up that moment.
As we leave Yosemite, our oldest grandchild, Jason (then 12) names his three favorite things: the lazy inner tube float through the valley on the Merced River, rock climbing in the high country and (be still my heart) the live, one-man John Muir show. I know he gets it.
Our thirteen-year adventure took us to unimaginable places in our own country, in many cases far off the beaten track. Whether the park was one of the biggies or something like Hot Springs, Arkansas (my first time in the state), Great Basin in Nevada (a five-hour drive across the Great Salt Lake desert at night), or Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (a two-hour drive west from Bismarck past oil wells and sunflower fields), I can remember every one by some unique experience. That is, as we checked parks off our list, we discovered, often by accident, so much about our own glorious country that we never knew!
So, “just do it.” Make plans, but don’t schedule every minute, something better might turn up, like a California condor, a sandstorm, a yin-yang experience or an in-your-face Half Dome. If you need extra incentive, take your kids or grand kids.