July 9, 2012

Looking for a serene spot? Here’s your guide to national park getaways.

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.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/d85a6a465a4f4d30ae197ab832b59e951.jpgYosemite National Park 

The rich diversity of Yosemite National Park's attractions—lush meadows, huge granite climbing rocks, Giant Sequoia trees and spectacular summer waterfalls— provide visitors with a wide array of choices. The U-shaped Yosemite Valley dominates the park's 761,090 acres and is accessible year-round, even during the late autumn and winter when much of the rest of the park is closed to visitors.
With more than 3 million annual visitors, the park's iconic El Capital granite wall is one of the most recognized images of all U.S. parks. It's often possible to see tiny figures moving ant-like up and down the granite. Bring binoculars.
Since Yosemite shares the western sides of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, elevation ranges from 2,100 feet up to more than 13,000 feet. When not hip-deep in snow, the park offers more than 800 miles of hiking trails, many winding through the silent trees and soft-sounding streams.
The preferred time of year to visit is April through June, when the winter snowmelt spills over the park's numerous waterfalls. They are spectacular in their rim and many people climb precariously close to the rocks at the base of several of the most accessible falls, just to immerse themselves in the sound and spray.
The most secluded spots in the vast park can be found in the three groves of Giant Sequoia trees, ranging in number from 20 to 200. These huge trees date back hundreds of years, almost demanding awe for their longevity.


Rocky Mountain National Park

 http://reneweveryday.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/1fcd0ef9497348e3a5cd85e2213cf2901.jpgAbout 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

 http://reneweveryday.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/697a6a407c4042e1be2d803b85f5f2e51.jpgThe ancient Pueblo culture that once lived here by the tens of thousands are gone now, but their architecture, their organization, their sense of community linger in this southwest New Mexico national park. Between 850 and 1250 A.D., the Chaco Canyon residents gathered here for sacred ceremonies, built multi-story buildings with hundreds of rooms, and created a mystical culture that still challenges scholars.

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

 http://reneweveryday.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/3fbf789b2860420fb8e243b33177498e1.jpgThink Everglades in Southeast Florida, and you think alligators – a million or so, at last count. Florida alligators are the epitome of relaxation, or seemingly so, as they sun themselves on banks and roadsides. While there's no guarantee, a visit to the Everglades National Park, which makes up about one-fifth of the entire ecosystem, almost always yields a ‘gator sighting. Just don't be fooled by the seeming calmness. ‘Gators bite!

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

 http://reneweveryday.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/5cfd37988c5b4213a0c023e5ac342b131.jpgYou may never get out of your car when visiting this East Coast park in Virginia. Why should you? The famed Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles along the breathtaking crest of the Blue Ridge Mountain range, and even if you encounter traffic and low-gear curves (max speed is 35 mph), the view is always scenic. On a clear day, it can take three hours to transit this single public highway.  Fall, with the changing leaves, is the ideal time to visit.

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.


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