National Parks I visited in 2010

The National Parks I made it to in 2010

2010 was an uncommon year for me in my national park quest. For years and years, Kim and I would have gone on several trips each year, all with the sole purpose of marking dozens of parks off of our list.

This year, things had changed. Even so, I was able to make it to a bunch of new parks—eight to be precise—and also made return visits to 10 other ones.

Most of the return visits occurred during personal time extended onto existing work trips. All but one of the new visits happened during my summer roadtrip. It was great to be able to mark off a bunch of parks — I’m looking at you Manzanar and Devils Postpile — that I had driven past before but was never able to stop and see.

Return visits

First visits

  • Aztec Ruins National Monument
  • Manzanar National Historic Site
  • Devils Postpile National Monument
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Lava Beds National Monument
  • WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Tule Lake unit)
  • Oregon Caves National Monument

I considered ranking the parks I’ve seen this year, but it’s always difficult to choose amongst such cool places. Each is in their own way special, whether it’s because of the terrain or the memories you create there. However, a few of this year’s experiences stick out.

One of those moments was seeing the bat show at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Another was finally—finally!—visiting the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Or being part of some amazing sunset light at White Sands National Monument. Or collecting wild blackberries by kayak in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Or exploring Fern Canyon in Redwoods State and National Parks. Or spending several days kayaking through Canyonlands National Park.

There were certainly other moments, special moments, and others that are more forgettable, but each unique and special in its own way.

I’ve been particularly bad about posting photos and trip summaries from the trips I’ve taken this year. I’m hoping to start getting those up in the next few months.

So what are my 2011 National Park goals? I’m not sure yet—I suspect that it’ll be a relatively lean year, but I’m definitely hoping to mark off a few more. Do you have any national park trips planned this year?

Celebrate National Park Week with free admission all week

My next park visit: kayaking through Canyonlands National Park

The National Park System includes some of the most significant and inspiring places in the country. The parks have played a special role in my life, and this is a great opportunity to experience them.

From the National Park Foundation, who is partnering with the National Park Service on it:

Celebrate National Park Week April 17th – 25th, and celebrate what we all have inherited as Americans — 84 million acres of the world’s most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures. Together we are owners of this land, and this National Park Week, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation invite you to pass along this tradition. Introduce a young person to their national parks and introduce them to a new world of experiences that can shape their future, protect our environment, and preserve our American legacy.
Share a park, and shape a life.

Whether you are visiting, volunteering or interested in sharing your national park experience with the world, below you will find all the resources you need to make your National Park Week experience a memorable one. Start by downloading your guide to participating in National Park Week.

National Park Week also means free entrance or admission to any of America’s 392 national parks. There are lots of great places comprising a variety of resources—there’s definitely something out there for everyone.

Be sure to check out the complete listing of events, many of which are scheduled for Earth Day. It’s also a great time to bring your kids to the national parks—April 24 is also National Junior Ranger Day. It’s one of my favorite government programs.

Guns in National Parks is a dumb idea

Earlier this week, the law permitting loaded firearms in National Parks went into effect. In order to force it through, the bill had been attached as an amendment to the unrelated credit card reform bill. The new law repeals the Reagan-era practice of allowance of guns in parks, as long as they were unloaded and stored.

There are some obvious concerns about the enforcement of poaching laws and general safety.

But what concerns me most about guns in parks is the chilling effect it will have on visitor management.

If someone is packing heat, fellow visitors will be less likely to engage in friendly reminders or report when that person is damaging or stealing park resources.

Even more to the point, unarmed interpretative park rangers will be more reluctant to confront—or even make contact with—someone who is armed. I’ve personally seen this happen several times while doing ride-alongs with rangers in BLM-managed national monuments and have asked park service rangers about it too.

There’s no reason to need loaded guns in national parks, but there are many reasons to keep them out.

We need an America the Beautiful pass for kids

Some of our previous National Park and America the Beautiful passes
Some of our previous National Park and America the Beautiful passes

For the ninth or tenth straight year, Kim and I bought an America the Beautiful Pass (or its predecessors, the National Parks Passport and Golden Eagle Passport). For $80 a year, it’ll get you and your family into every National Park unit and the other federal land management agency lands for free. Given the fabulous list of places that includes, it’s an incredible steal.

Most years, it pays for itself early in a roadtrip. This winter, it only saved us $8. Vicksburg National Military Park, of the 11 total national parks we visited, was the only one1 that charged an entrance fee. Unlike the majority of sites in the West, we’ve noticed that Southern units rarely charge an entrance fee. Even so, we’ll probably break even later this year.

In addition to the regular America the Beautiful pass, there’s also an America the Beautiful Senior Pass, an America the Beautiful Access Pass, and an America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

The Senior pass, formerly called the Golden Age Passport, is a one-time $10 (now) $803 fee and covers US citizens ages 62 and up. That’s quite a deal. The Access pass, formerly called the Golden Access Passport, is an even better deal – it’s free for anyone with a permanent disability. Mind you, these passes cover the entrance fee for you (and your family) into any national park for rest of your life. The Volunteer Pass, however, is awarded only after 500 2502 cumulative hours of volunteer work and is good for a single year from that date.

Now, I realize that many seniors and people with disabilities may have limited and/or fixed incomes which make it difficult to enjoy our national treasures. But at the same time, we’re not asking for income tax returns at the entrance station—if your drivers license says you’re 62, you get a lifetime pass…even if you’re Warren Buffett. I understand that getting seniors to the parks is a laudable goal—and that as a voting block, they could be particularly helpful in ensuring adequate park funding.

But I think we’re missing the real opportunity here: getting young kids to the parks. Instead (or rather, in addition to) the existing passes, there should be a youth pass. It should be valid until the age of eighteen and function similarly to the senior pass.

We should call it the Golden Eaglet Pass.

Yes, kids under the age of 16 are already admitted for free. But that’s misleading. If you’re driving to a place like, say, Grand Canyon National Park, you’re going to pay $25 $30 a carload whether or not it contains a 12-year old. But if grandpa was asleep in the back seat, you’d get the entire car in for free.

There are already very compelling reasons for why we need to get kids outside more often – whether it’s combating obesity, connecting them with the wonder of the natural world, or giving them a chance to learn first-hand about our natural and cultural heritage. We all know and agree that it’s important.

We also need them to become lifelong advocates for public lands, helping to ensure that the special places they visited remain for their own children to experience. Providing an incentive for families to make sure that happens is a good idea.

As a final comment, I’d also love to see the volunteer pass dramatically lower its service hours requirement. 500 250 volunteer hours is roughly an entire quarter of full-time work and would be valued at more than $10,000 $5,000. That’s a ridiculously high amount of volunteer time for an $80 pass and essentially ensures that only retirees will meet the requirement in a single year (and hell, they can already get a lifetime pass for $80). That total should be dropped to 50 hours or less. After all we should be doing a better job of rewarding those who donate their time, energy and skill to protecting and interpreting our special places that help make this country great.

Note: You can buy any of these passes (well, except for the youth pass I’ve proposed) at virtually any National Park Service unit that charges a fee, or basically any federal fee area that’s staffed. By the way, the unit at which you buy it receives an additional cut of the fee, so keep that in mind. In the past, we’ve also seen them for sale at REI.

Also, most federal sites have “fee-free days” several weekends a year.

Footnotes:

[back to post] Poverty Point National Monument, while technically a unit of the National Park System, is owned and run by the State of Louisiana and charged its own $2/person entrance fee that’s not covered by the pass.

[back to post] The Volunteer Pass requirements have been dropped to 250 hours, which is still far too high.

[back to post] The National Parks Centennial Act passed in early 2017 is raising the price for the Senior Pass from $10 to $80 for the lifetime pass. Still an amazing deal.