What is your favorite park?
It is an impossible question… and one the kids get asked often. But, all the parks were established to preserve an incredible part of the country, and not just any place… but the highest! The deepest! The longest! The most! The best! There is something magical about all the parks. Something that transcends the efforts of getting there. We’ve now been to 27 National Parks; we’ve spent the night in a tent, hiked a few trails, gotten dirty, explored a wilderness, learned something new, and seen something amazing there. We’ve learned a lot about these parks, and we all have fond memories of each stop along our trips for unique and various reasons. So, how do you pick the very, very best? Your most favorite? How can you rank the dense wilderness of Sequoia against the vast sun-beaten grasslands of the Badlands? Can you even compare the alpine meadows of Glacier with the glow of an Arizona sunset on the walls of the Grand Canyon? Or choose a favorite between the Mammoth Hot Springs of Yellowstone or the Great Bat Caves of Carlsbad or the flowing Volcanoes of Hawaii? I don’t know that you can.
We do each have a few favorites through. It’s like books. I don’t think I can pick my most favorite. But, I can pick my top three, hmm… or maybe I’d have to go with a top five. Either way, there are a handful of parks that I hold very near and dear to my heart, not just for their beauty, but for some of the experiences we’ve had there. Three of my most favorite are included in the Northwest Itinerary: Rainier, Olympic, and the Redwoods. So, although I can’t pick a favorite park, I think I can pick a favorite trip. Not only does the Northwest Itinerary include six incredible parks, but it also includes some other locations that make this itinerary special: the beautiful Lake Chelan, the pristine San Juan Islands, the culturally unique cities of Seattle and Portland, and the absolutely breathtaking Oregon coastline. Not to mention that in between stops, you are driving through some of the most magnificent and productive forests in the world.
But every trip has its valley… even the Best One. I lost my wedding ring on this trip. It wasn’t a diamond or a family heirloom, thank goodness, but it was mine. It was a very simple, plain, white-gold band, the one I was married with, the one I’d been wearing all those years we struggled through the early part of my marriage, and through all the happy times we shared while watching our family grow. It was heartbreaking. I believe I lost it somewhere in our campground at Lake Chelan, and after hours and hours of looking for it, driving away was torture. But there’s more. That was also the summer that we were trying to keep a flailing business partnership afloat. I’m not sure if any of you have ever been through a business partnership “break-up,” but I think it may be as emotionally draining and devastating as divorce. You face some of the hardest issues among our personal relationships: the loss of loyalty, trust, and friendship. The stress level and phone calls were enough to make us all think about driving home early. I’m so glad we didn’t.
There are always reasons not to go, not to plan, not to spend the money, or not to take the time. But, I’ve never yet felt that one of these trips wasn’t worth the effort or the sacrifice of being there, because this is the thing that is most important: the time with your family. Now it is three years later and when we look back, we don’t see the things that went wrong. We remember the great eagle that swooped over our dashboard while in the San Juan Islands. We remember how it felt to be standing under the powerful spray of Comet Falls after accomplishing a strenuous two mile hike up the foothills of Mt. Rainier to get there. We remember the first time we walked over the rim and gazed at Crater Lake. We remember our first Fourth of July in Bend, OR, a town we would come to call home. We remember the breathtaking views overlooking the Olympics Mountain range and the laughter of following the Twilight Trail in Forks. We remember that incredible Museum of Flight in Seattle. We remember the salt-water taffy in Seaside. We remember throwing ourselves down the great sand dunes of the Oregon coast. We remember our last hike of the trip, walking through a dense fog in the middle of the Redwood forest.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we all have valleys in life, just like every trip will have it’s valley. Don’t let that stop you from taking them! And more importantly, don’t let it stop you from finishing them. Our first business disintegrated that summer, and I lost my wedding ring. But, we just deal with the difficult times knowing that it’s only a low point, and that we’ll hike out of it soon enough, and onto our next mountain. My brilliant husband has built up a better company and I’ve inherited a beautiful heirloom ring from my Great Grandmother. And, now that I look back, I kind of like the thought of my plain gold band buried somewhere near the shores of Lake Chelan. Maybe someday, some imaginative child will dig it up out of the mud and play a little game called “The One Ring.” One can only hope.