By Fred Wright
When those in recovery seek solitude and silence, a perfect place to turn is nature.
Today, there are city and state parks by the hundreds, and the United States has 58 national parks — each an oasis of nature — scattered throughout 23 states. Here are some of those serene spots.
Yosemite National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
About an hour's drive west of Denver, a dozen of the nation's tallest peaks await, populated with a stunning splendor of wildflowers in the spring, golden aspens in the fall and wildlife year-round. Rocky Mountain National Park is only 416 square miles, but it offers a unique drive over the fragile tundra—Trail Ridge Road.
Covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park's east side and Grand Lake on the west, Trail Ridge Road includes 11 miles of high highway travel above the treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park's evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra's vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road [U.S. 34] offers visitors occasional glimpses of the park's wildlife — deer, elk, moose, the rare bighorn sheep and tiny pikas as the road climbs some 4,000 feet. The drive might begin amid lodge pole pines and aspens and quickly pass through subalpine forests of spruce and fir. The road is closed half the year, though, due to deep mountain snowpack.
There are numerous pull-offs and scenic view parking spots along Trail Ridge Road for quiet, solo moments. At the peak of the road, there is a rest stop, souvenir shop and café. Next to it is a small mountain of rocks and steps—a challenging climb at 14,000 feet but a chance to be even higher and quieter.
Caution: When driving Trail Ridge Road at night, go slow. Deer love to meander across the road in search of food.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Access to the canyon covers rough roads, not ideal for fast driving, but upon arrival, there is an oasis — a museum, store and visitors center. There’s also a paved 9-mile loop past five major Anasazi “Great Houses,” including Pueblo Bonito. Self-guided tours through the massive archaeological sites provides visitors with a chance to see the canyon almost as the Native Americans did more than a millennium ago.
The Great Kiva near Pueblo Bunito is rich in implied history. The round structure, several feet deep into the ground, invites visitors to pause at any point on the compass and consider what rites took places here centuries ago.
The night sky over Chaco Canyon is equally spectacular. Unspoiled by urban light pollution, the stars look back in their aligned brilliancy as they did for the Anasazi. Park rangers often hold evening viewings with telescopes.
Everglades National Park
The juncture of temperate and subtropical climate makes the Everglades an ideal breeding ground for tens of thousands of wading birds as well as gentle manatees, deer, Florida panthers and even the American crocodile. Plus the longest continuous strand of native sawgrass in North America.
There are three entrances to the Everglades National Park, only one that's free— via the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, which is also the gateway to the Wilderness Waterways Trail, 99 miles of nature. It’s ideal for sightseeing via rental boat, airboat, kayak, canoe or other water craft. Just ask at the center for a secluded and alligator-safe locale.
Shenandoah National Park
Marked with mileposts, there are 75 overlook spots, starting at Front Royal, Va. The shoulders are deliberately unmowed, providing almost year-round wildflowers, which are at their most spectacular in spring, of course.
Wildlife—black bear, deer, turkey and other woodland creatures—are abundant. Remember to look but not feed. It's against the law. If you do decide to explore on foot, the park offers nearly 500 miles of hiking trails.
At mile 51.4 on Skyline Drive, just near the Byrd Visitor Center, there's a path that leads to a 3.3-mile there-and-back hike to Lewis Falls. The falls, at 81 feet high, provide a steady splendor and natural ambience for moments of meditation.
For those in recovery, there is never a vacation from self-responsibility. While visiting one of these national parks, if a support meeting is needed, here are some nearby resources.
Yosemite National Park, Sonora, Calif. – 209-533-1134
Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder, Colo. – 303-447-8201
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Farmington, N.M. – 503-327-0731
Everglades National Park, Homestead, Fla. – 305-245-1796
Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, Va. – 540-636-2931
Images courtesy National Parks Service.