Americas Best Idea is showcased at Colorado National Monument
Just call this an unabashed ode to what documentarian Ken Burns called “America’s Best Idea.” That idea? The national parks. The 391 units that makeup the national park system are some of those little — in this case it’s really not little at all — things that set the United States apart.
Could Americans survive without, say, a shrine to Abraham Lincoln at his birthplace? Or without being able to walk the eerie rows of cells at Alcatraz? Without watching in awe as Old Faithful erupts? Without being able to hike to Delicate Arch? Without the ability to wander among the ancient homes of the Anasazi? Without taking a Sunday afternoon ride over Rimrock Drive in the Colorado National Monument?
The answer is, of course we could. But would our lives be a little less rich without being able to do all of that and much, much more? Yes they would. That, I think, is indisputable.
The national parks are permanent reminders of where we’ve been, how we’ve arrived at where we are, and what the possibilities are for our children and every other generation to come. They are, quite simply, America’s Best Idea.
I’ll admit that I haven’t watched all of Burns’ exhaustive six-part series, although I intend to. But I’ve seen some of it, and I spent some time earlier this month in a couple of gems of the national park system. That would be Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. As parks go, they don’t get much better.
It seems that a great American pastime is to complain about the crowds on vacation. Too many people at the beach, or the campgrounds are full. Can’t get a reservation for dinner. Or, in the case of the national parks, it’s a complaint about having to share the Old Faithful experience with hundreds of other people. Well, there are ways around that. Try Old Faithful in, say, February, for example.
I raise the issue because both the Tetons and Yellowstone were brim full of people when we were there. And indeed, dinner reservations were difficult to come by. But what that really meant was that a lot of people were taking advantage of our Best Idea.
That’s really a good thing. A very good thing. It means, among other things, a lot of people aren’t at home watching endless talking heads on cable news shows, for example. It means they’re out experiencing what this country has to offer.
For that we can thank a lot of people, but nobody deserves our gratitude more than the Scottish-American John Muir. His indefatigable efforts to preserve Yosemite have quite appropriately earned him the moniker of “Father of the National Parks.” Without his efforts we wouldn’t have the crowds to complain about, and the natural, historical and cultural wonders that attract them.
We might not have Colorado National Monument.
Sometimes we forget that we live in the beautiful part of the world that we do. At our back door is not a Yellowstone or Teton, Yosemite or Grand Canyon, but a little gem nonetheless.
The geology of the monument is no less fascinating than that of the Grand Canyon. Its vistas are perhaps not as grand, but they are stunning enough to provoke awe in every newcomer to the Grand Valley who makes his first foray over Rimrock Drive.
Our own little national monument is about to have a birthday. Next year it will turn 100. There are events galore in the planning stages. Watch for them, and get ready to celebrate the monument’s first century.
More and more people are going to the monument every year. But the crowds I saw in Yellowstone and the Tetons aren’t there yet. For the time being it’s more or less our own private little piece of America’s Best Idea.