Visit Joshua Tree National Monument on a road trip to Yosemite

Why We Should Visit and Support the National Parks

National Parks are some of the best places to visit, no matter where you live, no matter your interests. Most countries have National Parks, protecting and preserving special natural, historical and archaeological sites.

Designating an area as a National Park or Nature Preserve protects it from future development. We preserve some of the most beautiful, and most fragile ecosystems or historical sites for the enjoyment of future generations. National Parks are more important now than ever; in most cases it is the only way to stop development and in some cases mining, the destruction of some of the most fragile ecosystems or cultural heritage sites.

Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park (photo: Jeff Fromm)

National Parks are the best places to experience nature surrounding us.

National Parks Offer Opportunities for Animal Encounters

Most of us live in cities, where we rarely see wild animals, or any kind of animals unless we have pets. But in a national park, no matter when you go, you will almost always see at least a few animals who share the park with you.

We most often wee deer in the National Parks, no matter when we visit. Herds of deer graze near the lodges in both Bryce Canyon and Zion national Parks; usually in the early morning and at dusk. Often, we can get very close to them.

Though not as often, we’v also seen elk in National Parks. During one of our visits to the Grand Canyon National Park, we saw a large, beautiful elk grazing by the road.

But we’ve never seen as many animals during one visit to a National Park than when we spent a week in Banff National Park in Canada. We would usually see them by the road on the Bow River Parkway, or at different sites in the park.

Memorable encounters in the park included a large porcupine on the shore of Lake Louise, herds of bighorn sheep on the shore of Bow Lake, coyotes, and Canadian geese, among others.

But our most memorable encounter in Banff was with a grizzly bear, by the road, with miles of traffic stopped to watch the bear. Park rangers were out in their bear-watch van, teaching people about bear encounters, making sure everyone stayed in their car and left the bear alone. One of the rangers told us that it was a “teenage bear” from the vicinity of Lake Louise, wandering off away from his mother. He wandered by the train tracks, then eventually crossed the road and disappeared into the forest.

Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park, Canada
Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park, Canada. (c) Leanne Fromm

We Might Even Spot Endangered Species

As we were driving out of Sunset Crater Volcano National Park, my daughter suddenly exclaimed:

“It’s a pronghorn sheep! Wow! I can’t believe I’m seeing it! It is an endangered species!”

I caught a glimpse when I looked over, but I couldn’t tell what it was.

“Maybe it is a deer.”

“No, Mom. I know what I saw. It was a pronghorn sheep. I know my animals.”

She does. She plans to become a wildlife conservationist, she’s been studying wild animals in zoo camp every summer, and that’s all she reads about. Yes, I did believe her.

Luckily, a few feet ahead we had an opportunity to stop at a pull-out. The two animals were fairly far from us by then, but we could see them through our binoculars. We didn’t get a very good photo, but it was seeing them and understanding how special the encounter was that made our stop worth it.

Pronghorn sheep in the meadow
Pronghorn sheep in the meadow in Sunset Crater National Park

It was a pronghorn sheep couple, grazing in the meadow just outside Sunset Crater. The female was following the male, and they were moving in our direction.

We spent a good half hour watching them, as they made their way in our direction. Eventually, they walked farther into the distance in disappeared from our view in the tall grass. Understanding that we were watching endangered animals made us enjoy the encounter even more.

National Park Visits Give Us a Chance to Learn About Our Planet

By the way they are set up, National Parks offer learning opportunities for all who visit them. They offer a chance to learn about our environment, about our planet, and understand how everything works in nature. Our visits offer opportunities to:

Understand Different Ecosystems

National parks protect different ecosystems, sometimes very fragile ones. The visitor centers are great places to stop and learn about them, then it is a treat to walk on the trails and experience what you have learned. Ecosystems are communities of all living things (plants, animals, organisms) and their environment (soil, rocks, sun, weather, atmosphere) in a given area, interacting with each other.

Depending on the location, we can find forest, desert, grasslands, aquatic (both freshwater and marine) ecosystems within the National Parks. They all offer great learning opportunities; when we understand how they work, how everything is interconnected, we also understand how we can preserve and protect each ecosystem and its environment. This also helps us understand how things are interconnected, and how they relate to each other.

Learn About Earth’s Formation and Geology

How do canyons, rock formations, mountains form? Instead of reading about it, you can see the answer for yourselves when you visit a National Park like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Sunset Crater or Crater Lake.

Walking the rim trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon gives you a glimpse of how the different layers of rocks formed the Earth’s surface. The exposed rocks themselves are a visible geologic record of what was going on over 500 million years ago on our Earth. For a great learning experience, stop at each level on the interpretive trail, and read about the layers at different levels.

Grand Canyon NP - Layers of Rocks
The layers of rocks visible in the Grand Canyon showcase Earth’s geological history

In Bryce Canyon, you understand newer geology. You see, how the soft rocks, like sandstone, are eroded, forming exquisite natural sculptures, named hoodoos. You also gain an understanding of how the same formations get eroded over time, forming a lower whole.

Bryce Canyon NP
Bryce Canyon NP

Visiting Sunset Crater, or Mt St. Helen’s gives you a glimpse of the volcanic activity that forms mountains.

In Sunset Crater National Monument, you have the opportunity to walk on lava rocks or sand, and even walk climb a crater, and marvel at the way that new vegetation grows, new forests form.

Sunset Crater National Monument
Sunset Crater

At Mt. St Helen we witnessed an eruption a few years ago. As we entered the park’s Visitor Center, we noticed a note saying: “Contrary to general belief, Mt St Helen is erupting right now.” As we watched in the distance, we could see smoke coming off the mountaintop, and we watched the seismograph record small earthquakes.

National Parks also Teach Us about Human History

The first National Park set aside to preserve “the works of men” was Mesa Verde. Walking through the ruins of an ancient civilization gives you a better understanding of mankind, of the way our ancestors lived in different environments.

Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park

Other examples of this kind of park in the US are Chaco, Aztec, Wupatki and a lot of others scattered through the Southwest and beyond.

Chaco National Park
Chaco National Park

Visiting a National Park Forces Us to Unplug from Electronics

The lodges in the national parks don’t have televisions. In most places within the parks, you won’t have cell connection either, or it will be very poor. The wi-fi works sometimes, but you can’t count on it either all the time in all of the parks.

This gives you a great opportunity to connect with your family or companions, while enjoying your surroundings. After exploring the park during the day, spend your time reading a book, drawing sketches or writing in a journal. Clear your mind from the constant buzz of electronics.

Bringing the Kids to the Parks

Visiting National Parks probably has the biggest impact on children, so it is important to bring them and offer them a chance to get involved in activities the park system offers for them. These visits teach them about their human heritage and environment and the importance of protecting it.

The Junior Ranger program for kids is a great way to get the younger generation involved in preserving the environment around them, and learning about it all, as well as about history. They enjoy getting a badge after completing the booklet and learning answers to questions they might not know they had.

As Junior Rangers, they lead the way in cleaning up the pristine forests.

Years ago I hiked up to a pristine lake in Washington (State) with my oldest two kids who were preschoolers at the time. They were still new to the Junior Ranger program, just got their badge in Mount Rainier National Park. We took it slow and made it to the top of the mountain. On the way, they picked up every single gum wrapper, plastic bag, a tiny piece of paper, and anything human-made that did not belong in the forest. Let me just say, my backpack became a garbage bag by the time we got back to the parking lot.

We felt good, they felt good and knew that they made a difference, however small. They must have saved at least one bird or animal that might have ingested some of the wrappers or plastic pieces.

Outdoor Activities in a National Park Offer Us Opportunities to Enjoy the Surrounding Nature

National parks comprise some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, from snow-capped mountains to low deserts and everything in between. Hiking trails crisscross all the parks, offering hiking choices for visitors of all abilities. You’ll find short, easy paved interpretive nature trails surrounding Visitor Centers, where you can learn about the specific environment in each park. Besides that, trails from flat, one-mile walks to over ten-mile strenuous hikes in gorgeous setting offer opportunities for all levels.

Besides hiking, many parks offer horseback riding, rock climbing, and bicycling opportunities. But to spend most time in nature within a National Park, you can try camping in one of them.

You can camp in virtually every National Park, and enjoy the surroundings. One of our favorite spots to camp is in Sunset Crater National Park, in the Lava Bonito Campground. We use a tent, but the campground is designed to be both a tent and Winnebago-friendly with hookups. No matter how you do it, camping in a National Park brings you closer to nature, giving you a better understanding of your surroundings.

The best part of camping in any National Park? The night sky.

Dark Sky Parks teach us About Astronomy

Far from the light pollution of cities, the parks feature some of the best night sky views on the planet. Many times we got up in the middle of the night to look at the Milky Way outside our tent. We see it so clearly, I understand why my ancestors called it the Road of Warriors (Hadak Útja) or why the Ancient Maya called it the Celestial Monster.

It is hard to fathom our place in the Universe, but watching the clear skies in a National Park, we understand it all, we see it with our own eyes.

Chaco National Park has its own observatory, to enjoy the night sky and understand its significance. The campground in Chaco is in an alcove of ancient ruins.

In Bryce, one of the exhibits in the Visitor Center compares the night sky in cities, smaller towns, and the park. After understanding the difference, you’ll want to go outside in the middle of the night to see it all.

Why We Should Protect and Support Our National Parks

Outdoor activities offered in National Parks improve both our physical and mental health. Researchers established a link between outdoor activities and a decrease of depression, and stress-related illnesses. Even the shortest walks will improve your health, since you are outside, in nature, far from pollutants of the cities.

The parks also offer us a glimpse into the beauty of our environment, a place to see wildlife and experience nature first hand. In our day-to-day stressful lives, they offer an oasis of calm and relaxation, a way to unwind and remember what really matters.

National Parks - reasons to visit
reasons to visit national parks
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