National parks, wilderness areas, forests, oceans, the wild places within our world, they all hold a special place in my heart. When I stand on the pinnacle of a high place or find myself in the bowels of the darkest cave, whether paddling down a wild river or feeling the thunderous motion of a waterfall, I feel most at peace. I feel closest to the God of creation. When I hear the gentle whisper of the wind through the trees, gaze at the endless night sky, or hear the lapping of waves on a shore, I am in awe. I think of the verses in the Bible that state that the rocks will cry out, and these wild places make me believe those words.
The other night, after our kids were in bed, Daniel and I were debating between putting our own exhausted selves to bed or watching mindless television. As I flipped the channels, I stumbled across an episode of a PBS documentary entitled "National Parks: America's Best Idea."
Within five minutes we were hooked. I have always been drawn to the National Parks, not only for their grandeur, but also for the stories that are tied to them. These experiences in the wilderness are the ones that stick with you for a lifetime.
I have only been to a handful of National Parks (though many of them are on my bucket list), but as a small girl I did get to visit the Grand Canyon with my parents. I don't remember the trip, but I have pictures to prove I was there. I hope to go back with my own children some day.
I want to share a family adventure that my family embarked on about the time that I was entering adolescence. In my mind this was a catalyst for my love of the outdoors. I believe that I was about 12, and my family had recently transplanted from Ontario, Canada to Arkansas, when my great grandmother passed away. My parents made the decision to attend her funeral in Canada, and since it was summer time, they decided we should visit all five Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes are not National Parks but they have their own vastness and majesty just the same. I remember driving over the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, as we crossed into Canada, high above the waterway that connected Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
On this trip we swam, or dipped our toes, in all five Great Lakes – with Lake Superior being the coldest by far. I believe my mom was the only one to actually get into Lake Superior. There is something magical about watching your mother throwing caution to the wind as she runs into a freezing lake.
In addition to visiting the Great Lakes, we camped as we drove through the province. The campground that stands out the most is Grundy Lake Provincial Park – you can read my full account of our experience here. To this day, any mention of this park conjures up memories of ridiculous amounts of mosquitoes. It was early summer and we were drowning in mosquitoes. My mom took my siblings and I down to the lake to swim while my dad set up camp. This translated into us holding our breaths and staying under water as long as humanly possible to escape the swarms.
Algonquin Provincial Park
As soon as our tent was up, we hurried inside and spent the next 30+ minutes killing everything that buzzed. We were all miserable, but in the end the story is among our fondest memories, and we all still love to camp.
After Grundy Lake we visited Algonquin Provincial Park. Obviously this was a park in Canada and not the United States, but I'm sure it had the same profound impact on me as a National Park would. I was young and impressionable as I decided that some day I would come back and take a multi-day canoe trip in that park. Twenty+ years later, I still hope that dream comes to fruition.
Rocky MountainsIn junior high and high school I had several opportunities to attend Wilderness Trek (a Christian camp in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado). On the four different trips I made, we hiked into back country to spend five days, and if the weather allowed, we would summit a mountain. My very first year I found myself on top of Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado, and I was never the same again. I was convinced I would eventually make my way to the top of all 50 states. I no longer believe that will happen, but I continue to try (I have made it to 9 out of 50 high points).
Anthony Creek Trail (GSMNP)
Daniel grew up taking yearly trips to the Great Smoky Mountains, and has many personal stories that he relives whenever we visit the park today – including hitch hiking with his dad from the Chimney Tops.
Gabes Mountain Trail (GSMNP)
As for the PBS documentary, I hope to watch the rest of the series, and some day, in the not-so-distant future, I hope to take our boys to stand on the edges of huge canyons and endless shores, and to the tops of tall mountains where their breath will be taken away. And just maybe, they will begin to dream their own dreams, as the beauty and majesty that God has put all around us begins to shape their lives.
Laurel Falls Trail (GSMNP)