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National Parks, Part Two

In the previous post I insinuated that perhaps our National Parks are best avoided. But let’s face it – there is something remarkable about these places that justifies their status. It’s no wonder that they are crowded, given how special they are. I’d be the last person to tell someone not to visit Zion, Yosemite, or the Great Smoky Mountains! But there is a way that I’ve found to experience a National Park with reduced frustration and increased enjoyment. It’s not perfect, and doesn’t always avoid all the pitfalls of these popular locations, but it is worth considering.

The key, in my experience, is to enjoy these places early and late in the day. A few years ago I was camping with friends and family near a well-known National Park. One day, after a leisurely breakfast, we headed in to enjoy the park. Well, guess what? That coincided with most of the other visitors’ schedules! So at just about every parking area, we had to wait for other visitors to vacate a parking space so that we could park. Once parked, we walked with (and against) throngs of others to the overlook or place of interest. When we got to those places, we had to fight our way through “selfie” takers who had more interest in facing their backs to the scenery, and taking a photo of themselves with the scenic backdrop, than in truly taking in the wondrous sights with their own eyes, rather than filtered through a "mobile device."

A couple days later we got smarter – we did some things near where we were camped in the morning, followed by a nice lunch with pleasant conversation. We then packed a picnic dinner and headed into the park at around 3:00. We were confronted by a stream of cars, but they were all leaving the park! We visited places of interest unhampered by crowds, found a nice place to enjoy our dinner, and experienced the sunset at a scenic overlook. Yes, there were some people there, but they all seemed to be like us, looking for a quiet experience in beautiful place. And there weren’t very many of them!

As mentioned in my previous post, I was recently in Utah, home of four incredible National Parks. I wished to photograph at the rim of Bryce Canyon, and decided that I preferred to do so in the morning. We were camped outside the park, so we arose early and drove in before sunrise. There were others with the same idea, but maybe fifty or so, nothing by National Park standards. As with the previously mentioned group, those willing to get up early and forgo breakfast seemed to be folks with a great deal of respect for the experience of being in such an awe-inspiring place. After photographing a bit from the rim, I ventured down a trail into the canyon. Very few people were doing that, and someone who got an early start was pretty much guaranteed a pleasant, uncrowded hiking experience. (This leads to another strategy for having a good experience in a national park – walk somewhere more than a couple hundred yards from a road!)

Alas, I was not able to capture the magic of Bryce in the way that I hoped I would. Here is perhaps my best effort, from a rocky limestone promontory:

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