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April 23, 2024. A few years ago we celebrated the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service. This year, we have to continue fighting to protect it from the Republican Party. Smoky the Bear’s not kidding when he says “only you can prevent forest fires”. Because he might be defunded. It’s just us now.

The parks themselves were many millions of years in the making. More time – and space – than we can imagine. Almost too much beauty and peace to appreciate.

It’s time to appreciate a century of preserving these extraordinary places – and to do whatever it takes to create and save even more during the next century.It’s time to stop the Republicans from turning our Parks into mining, drilling and fracking sites. If you need some convincing about the Parks’ value, just visit one.

Here are three very different versions of big and beautiful. Really big. Really beautiful. Jaw-dropping big and beautiful.

It all started with Yellowstone. But for me, Yosemite National Park is the one for big, sheer beauty. For its big, sheer rock face climbing walls, El Capitan and Half Dome. If you’re not a technical climber, you can sneak up the back side of Half Dome like I did. With nothing but a pair of hiking shoes and gloves. Here’s The Way Up Half Dome. And the kinder, gentler Panorama Trail to Sentinel Dome with the very best and biggest views of Half Dome.

Volcanoes National Park covers the biggest geological feature on the planet, the Mauna Loa volcano. Bigger than Mt. Everest. Heavier than the entire Sierra Mountain Range in California. It rises 14,000′ get above Pacific Ocean level. It started out more than 20,000′ below the surface. Took two million years to get above water. Another million to reach its peak.

Now you can walk around the gigantic and still active Kilauea caldera; through a lava tube that borders a small rain forest filled with giant fern trees; and across a shiny black lava shelf where hot lava pours into the ocean. I didn’t fully understand the concepts of “geological time” and the “earth’s crust” until I took this hike. When you see lava flow into the ocean and form new land, well, it changes you.

So does the hike down into the canyon so big they had to call it Grand. If you know it only from photos, you think of it as a single, vast panorama. One huge canyon that’s a mile deep, eight miles wide and much, much longer. But when you hike down in, you lose the canyon for the sub canyons.

When you hike back out, you’re overwhelmed by the awesome view back down. It was a beautiful and impressive sight before you made the descent. But now it’s astonishing. You really can’t believe you were down in there. Somewhere down there. I imagine it’s like coming home after taking that giant step for mankind – and looking back up at the moon. OK, maybe not quite that amazing. But as close I’ll ever get.

C’mon, take a great vacation in a great Park. And enjoy the privilege of paying the very modest admission fee.

Need to get in the mood? Pop for 99 cents and buy a 30-minute virtual video hike with the Treadmill Trails app.

Take a 5-minute walk in 5 National Parks. Press Play.

Cost-Benefit Analysis
$15 – $35 gets a carload of you into a National Park. For a week! You get the immediate benefit of a great day. Hiking gives you the long-term benefit of great health. Even Better & Cheaper: a Senior Lifetime Pass for $80 for U.S. citizens 62 and older.

There are thousands of local, State and National Parks in the U.S. alone. Use and support them. Preview a few great ones: Acadia’s Ocean Path, Canyonlands’ Confluence Point, Grand Teton’s Amphitheater Lake, Yellowstone’s Lower Falls, Glacier’s Highline Trail, Arches’ Devils Garden.

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