The spotlight’s on our National Parks this week as National Geographic’s current issue pays tribute to our redwoods and Ken Burns’ “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea” six-part series began Sunday night. I watched the first episode twice because I was amazed by how much I didn’t know about the history of our National Parks. I say “our” to emphasize the genuine sense of ownership that I’m feeling now.
It was right here in California in 1864 that the idea “that our most magnificent natural wonders should be owned by all of us and preserved by all of us” became reality when Yosemite Valley was set aside as park land establishing the model for the future National Park System. “For the first time in human history,” Burns says, “land was set aside not for the pleasure of kings and noblemen and the very, very rich, but for everybody, for all time.”
Think about it. This land is your land, this land is my land. We are stakeholders in these parks. The parks are not merely “public lands.” They can be your back yard, your summer home, your Saturday adventure, your meditation room and the family vacation you’ll never forget.
In August 1995 a visit to Glacier National Park gave me the opportunity to spend a week with my youngest son against a backdrop of nature in its purest form. Dana was 13 and had just studied the National Parks in school. My parents took me to the Grand Canyon when I was his age and I had loved it, so I wanted to do the same for him.
We chose Glacier for several reasons: I wanted to avoid extreme heat; Dana wanted to ride the train; and this Montana park flows into Canada adding an international twist.
We boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Portland. I checked today and discovered the schedule hasn’t changed. The train pulls out of Portland’s Union Station at 4:45 p.m. then crosses the Willamette River and the Oregon Slough into Vancouver. It disappears into a 2,369-foot tunnel through the Cascade Range then skirts the Bonneville Dam, the Columbia Gorge, White Salmon, Mt. Hood and finally approaches Spokane where it joins the Seattle train headed to St. Paul-Minneapolis and eventually Chicago.
While we slept we crossed into Mountain Time. We woke to a brilliant sunrise somewhere in Montana. About 17 hours after leaving Portland we disembarked at the Glacier Park Station.
The station, built in 1913, sits next to the entrance to the impressive Glacier Park Lodge constructed with 600-year-old timber. We didn’t stay there, though. I rented a car across from the station and drove to a more affordable motel nearby.
With 50 “live” glaciers, 10,000-foot mountain peaks, numerous swift water lakes, over 700 miles of hiking trails and the incredible Going-to-the-Sun Road that crosses the Continental Divide, the park kept us busy. Wildflowers and wildlife were abundant in August and although we never saw a grizzly we managed to be just a few minutes behind two different sightings.
One morning we drove north into Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park established in 1895. In 1932 the two parks joined as the Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park thanks to the efforts of Congress, the Canadian Parliament and Rotary International of Alberta and Montana (way to go, Rotary!).
When I dug out the photo album today, I smiled at that summer 14 years ago when Dana and I--explorers, adventurers and land barons of the park that President Taft preserved for us back in 1910 – spent a week surveying our property together. Memories are the deed of trust.
If you’re thinking about a trip to one of your parks, consider going to Glacier. By train, it’s $176 (before the senior discount) round trip from Portland.
Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.