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Family Vacations, Summer 1998
Room with a view: How to find your own space in North America’s premier national parks
Something woke me in the middle of the night. I was 12 years old, sleeping on pine needles at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country. When my eyes adjusted to the starlight, I saw the bear sitting, legs outstretched, tongue licking every tasty drop from a soup can.
To breathe or not to breathe? I thought about it for a while and woke at dawn having decided, apparently, that it was OK to share the night with a harmlessly slurping black bear. I hadn’t yet read John Muir. When I did, I found this: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
Later on that same trip we dropped down to see Muir’s beloved Yosemite Valley, shared its photogenic splendors with a greater humanity and their many vehicles, steered together down pinched paths to gaze in amazement at skyscrapers of falling water. Thus did I learn early of the paradox in Congress’s 1872 declaration (of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone) that it
Our parks actually do a pretty swell job with their impossible charge: to preserve nature while opening it up to the people. My kids have seen this dichotomy on our trips to Mesa Verde and Arches, the national parks closest to our home. In fact, they seemed to embrace the conundrum. At the museum near the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, they crammed against the
At Arches, the girls took instantly to the communal living at Devils Garden Campground: schlepping water, sharing restrooms, following the well-worn sand paths to our tents. They watched bemused as tourists rushed up to Delicate Arch, snapped their photos, and fled. They learned to step, like prancing elves, around the tufts of microbiotic soils, and knelt to console those
But the best by far, for all of us, was getting lost in the red sandstone fins of the Fiery Furnace. Not lost really, just far enough past the last sign to disappear from park radar. Squeeze through this crack, scramble up those giants’ stair steps. Stop. Listen. The girls sat and made piles of white and red sand, grinding small stones to powder and casting them by pinches into
To get into John Muir’s space, you have do more than lean over the rail at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. You have to settle in a while, stay the night at the very least. On our way to visit relatives in California one summer, we eschewed the motel room in Ely, Nevada, and instead spent the night at the country’s then-newest national park, Great Basin. We set up camp on a creek