“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1 NIV).
From Sequoia on the west coast to Acadia on the east, with such jewels as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Mammoth Cave, and the Great Smoky Mountains between, our family’s favorite vacations revolve around our national parks. Nowhere else have we found such variety, majesty, and wonder.
Since early childhood, our extended family hit the road to the Great Smoky Mountains as often as time and funds allowed. Centrally located, it reigns supreme as the most visited national park in the United States. As part of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains meander along the North Carolina and Tennessee border. They offer unrivaled natural beauty, plus a walk back in time by means of the park’s meticulously maintained early settlements.
For a massive dose of humility, visit Sequoia National Park in California’s southern Sierra Nevada. Standing in the shadow of any of those giant trees, reminds us how small we are compared to many of earth’s inhabitants.
The park’s mountains and canyons also unearth a growing number of Native American archeological sites, as well as a variety of plants and animals. Nevertheless, its giant trees stand unrivaled as the park’s must-see.
The best of land and sea meet at Acadia National Park. Mountains, forests, coastal villages, gulls, crabs, sea urchins, lobsters, starfish, tide pools, trails — all fall within the panoramic view from Maine’s Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in the park. Swimming, fishing, boating, biking, and hiking in the summer are replaced with cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing in the winter. A few hearty hikers strike out in winter as well.
My personal preference requires neither stamina nor equipment. I simply watch the surf along the rocky coastline. Thunder Hole, where incoming surf thunders under the right conditions, displays the power and ever-changing nature of water and land colliding. It also reminds me that we must maintain a healthy respect for all of nature — its danger as well as its beauty.
Yellowstone National Park, our number one travel destination, offers everything a nature lover desires: lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife. Animals roam freely throughout the park, particularly the meadows in early morning and late afternoon. Herds of buffalo frequently stop traffic while they meander across the road. Trust me, they have the right-of-way. Enjoy viewing Yellowstone’s wildlife, but keep your distance.
More than all the other attraction, Yellowstone’s seismic activity demands our return. We join the throngs when Old Faithful blows, but we prefer to probe the park’s other geysers, mud pots, steam vents, and hot springs. Every time we visit, we discover new areas to explore.
Explorers continue to discover new territory in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest known cave system. Visitors to Mammoth Cave choose from several tour options, depending on their time, age, size, stamina, and mobility. Most tours include a moment when the guide extinguishes all light. The absolute darkness creates a hush among the group. When the guide then lights a single match, it illuminates the empty space. What a great reminder of Jesus, our light, our hope in a dark world, and how He calls us to reflect His light into the emptiness around us.
What’s so fascinating about a big hole in the ground? Only someone who has never seen the Grand Canyon could express such skepticism. One glance from any viewpoint will more than answer the scoffer’s question. The canyon’s size alone boggles the mind. Add to that the rock formations’ changing colors and the Colorado River that appears so deceptively small from above, and our senses go on high alert.
The majority of tourists flock to the South Rim with its rugged overlooks. Most never travel the 220 miles around the canyon (10 miles as the crow flies or 21 miles for hikers) to the less crowded, heavily forested, and much cooler North Rim. The difference in the two views alone makes the drive worthwhile.
Enjoy and Protect
Following the world’s creation, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 NIV). God then entrusted the world to us to work and enjoy. Let’s protect and care for it in obedience and as our gift back to God.