When I was a kid, my family started taking annual vacations Out West, this being my father’s preferred part of the planet in exactly the same way as Europe eventually became mine.
Yes, there are photographs. When I finish digitizing the last 35 years, maybe I can get to them.
Rog Sr. was an outdoorsman at heart, and the point of our journeys was to avoid spending any more time than necessary in cities — of which there were quite few in the Dakotas and Montana, anyway.
The first westward extravaganza came in 1969, when I was nine years old. The secondary motivation for making these trips was my father’s desire to reconnect with a few World War II buddies; one was close to Denver, another near Laramie in Wyoming. For some reason we were in Utah for the moon landing, and watched it on a motel room television.
As a result of these holidays, America’s national park system became an obsession with me, as well as a peek into the way my brain works, or doesn’t.
Nature in the abstract was all well and good with me, at least from a distance, and I enjoyed walking through the fields and woods in pre-subdivided Georgetown. The same was true of places like Yellowstone and Glacier parks, but what grabbed me at the time was the very concept of a national park, the manner of its administration, and the way the concept was presented to visitors.
Specifically, I became aware that each national park unit we entered would have someone on duty to hand us a small interpretive brochure at the visitor’s center, with a map and basic information.
These became a collector’s item for me. Back home, I’d write letters to the various parks throughout the country, asking them to please send me the official government printing office pamphlet, as well as other information. I’d check out library books about the national park system and make lists of the various formats (national monuments, national historic sites, etc).
I was ten, maybe eleven.
At some point later, the National Park Service changed the design, and I was aghast at this shameless assault on tradition. Not only that, but the park offices began asking for stamped, self-addressed envelopes.
And yet the bug still managed to bite, even in high school. Grudgingly, when I was in junior high school, my father had agreed to organize trips around visits to the designated battlefields and historic sites pertaining to the American Civil War.
The topic mildly interested him, but the problem was that these places (a) were not located Out West in God’s Country, and (b) tended to be too near major cities. But we managed somehow, and as a Civil War buff, I was delighted.
(It occurs to me that my mother was a part of all this, naturally, and it is a measure of her sphinx-like demeanor throughout her life that I couldn’t begin to tell you what her opinion was about any of it. She literally never expressed a preference.)
Anyway, I decided to become a park ranger, although not because the natural world drew me to this career choice. I merely wanted to be the guy in the uniform at the visitor’s center, giving the talks about what the site meant, especially the stories about its history.
As you might imagine, eventually it dawned on me that history itself was the lure, and this had little to do with natural parks in any specific sense.
Consequently, my university major was philosophy; however, this will have to be another story for another time.
Until then, here’s every U.S. National Park ranked.