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Reader Participation Day: What Was Your Best, And Worst, Experience In The National Parks This Summer?


Ahh, Labor Day. The traditional end of summer. Fortunately, the weather doesn't recognize that culmination, and there will be more wonderful days to spend in the national parks.

But with the bulk of the summer national park vacations having been taken, we want to know what was the best experience you had in the parks, as well as the worst.

Outline those two situations, and then please render a grade for the National Park Service.


Best Experience: A tie between snorkeling with green turtles in Maho Bay at Virgin Islands NP and snorkeling the coral reef on Ofu in NP of American Samoa.

Worst Experience: Locking my keys in the car at Yosemite NP. (Then again, within fifteen minutes, a couple of rangers and I were able to retrieve my keys with a long hook, and we had a pretty fun time doing it. Even my worst experiences in the parks are pretty good.)

Grade: A

Best experience: finally visiting Cedar Breaks NM after being stuck in snow at the entrace in May 2010 and having not enough time in July 2011. It was worth the waiting!

Worst Experience: Denali NP. Bad weather, luggage lost on the way from Europe to Anchorage, lacklustre staff, overpriced tickets and finally the horror of being stuck for hours in the travesty that the park shuttle busses are: bored Italians listening to their iPod on full volume all the time, guys from Japan blocking the aisles with at least a dozen of different camera gear, fat rednecks yelling "STOP!" at the sight of every squirrel kilometers away... never again.

Worst Experience;

Entering Yellowstone NP after a wonderful week visiting Badlands NP and Custer State Park in SD, stopped to photograph a bend in the Shoshone River. Slipped on loose soil, smashed my right ankle in 3 places. Emergency treatment at Lake Clinic and surgery at St. Johns Hospital in Jackson Hole later that night. Good news, excellent care all around. Now 10 weeks later, 2 weeks to go before I can stand on the injured foot. Yellowstone was awesome though. Now have to go back to see the rest. But, injury caused need to cancel a 3 week trip to Hawaii scheduled to begin today. :(

Best experience: Meeting so many terrific people along the way -- both park staff and other visitors -- in Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Badlands, Pipestone, Apostle Islands, and some state parks. Oh, and did I mention some absolutely incredible scenery all along the way? My faith in America received a welcome boost.

Worst experience: Blazing heat in Badlands and discovering that my home state's gasoline prices are much higher than any of the others I traveled through.

Paul Heff - Yikes! Talk about ill fortune.

There are plenty of less-known alternatives, both inside Mount Rainier NP and nearby, so I generally avoid the human zoo at Paradise in summer. However, my best park day so far was a wonderful stroll around the meadows at peak bloom, which was early August this year. Even though we only walked three or four miles, and most of that on the paved trails, my hiking companion made the day special. It might have been an omen that we lucked out and found a parking place close to the VC on a Saturday.

It had been months since I'd last seen my long-time friend Dorothea. Her husband (3 tours infantry sergeant in Nam) has needed increasing care this past year, so her outing opportunities have been limited. She's several inches short of five-feet tall, weighs less than a hundred pounds, and caused a minor sensation among the other early-birds passing us, judging by the comments I overheard. We chatted with several international families about flower identification (she's the expert). Hearing her Austrian accent, some pressed for her life story. Short version: childhood ski champion in the Depression years outside Vienna; war bride, itinerant military dependent, retired in WA; took up backcountry skiing & climbing with the Mountaineers in her late fifties. She had to give up climbing in her seventies, but still hikes and skis at 82!

Finally, we turned onto the old Moraine Trail to dodge the crowds and inspect the flower suite on a different slope aspect. Found a large flat rock right alongside the trail and enjoyed a peaceful picnic next to hundreds of monkeyflowers. The breezes kept the bugs at bay, while marmots played nearby and mountain goats were spotted across the glacier near one of the many waterfalls. What a privilege to share such a perfect day at 'The Mountain' with such an inspirational woman!

Best: driving up to the Long's Peak trailhead at Rocky Mountain National Park and being able to park for free. Nice hike and scramble up to Chasm Lake (11,860 feet elevation).

Worst: none, but the Long's Peak trip has been my only national parks outing this year. I drove by Great Basin National Park, Nev., but didn't stop. I wish a good motel would be built at Baker, Nev., or Garrison, Utah.

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