A Love Letter to the National Parks Service
Dear National Parks Service, I love you.
You’re so nice to me. You’re so special. Everything about you is special.
I’ve visited many national parks during the last six months that I’ve been living in an RV and traveling the United States. I’ve loved every national park, national monument and national forest I’ve seen. I can’t wait to learn more about you, NPS.
I’ve been sledding down the dunes of White Sands in New Mexico. I hiked around the Sunset Crater and then watched the sun dip below the horizon from ancient ruins of the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. I saw synchronized fireflies in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains.
I peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon. I hiked to petroglyphs in Mesa Verde in Colorado and then hiked some more in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Grand Teton, and I’m happy to report that Old Faithful in Yellowstone is still gushing on a somewhat regular basis.
The underground formations of Carlsbad Caverns seemed like they on another planet, and the stars in Congaree in South Carolina were too many to count. I loved driving through the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas and the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia, too.
And to think, I’ve only just started to get to know you! As I travel around the United States, the national parks and monuments make my heart swell. After five years of living abroad, not a lot of America these days makes me proud. But you sure do, NPS.
I’ve made memories with each visit to a nationally preserved area. I’ll certainly never forget when a thunderstorm erupted while I was in the ancient cave dwellings in the Gila National Forest. I watched as the storm turned to hail, moments after a thunderbolt struck a tree across the canyon, engulfed it in flames and then extinguished it into smoke with an even stronger downpour.
But our memories together aren’t the only reasons why I love you. I love you, National Parks Service, because you are strong in the face of vulnerability. Earlier this year, as I was living aboard, President Trump announced $587 million in cuts to the National Park Service as part of his proposed 2021 budget. He seems to be the only one who doesn’t think parks are great. He’s wrong about a lot of things.
Even with the threatened cuts, I never saw rangers be anything but patient, kind, and willing to answer questions from curious visitors like me. One outside the Grand Canyon joked about me having a fourth grader hiding in the back of my RV (All families with fourth graders get a free annual pass, by the way, thanks to President Obama.) Another ranger joke about bats getting tangled up in long hair as they made their nightly exodus from the Carlsbad Caves. Luckily, I just donated my hair to Children With Hair Loss.
Everyone seems happy to be working for the National Parks Service, and that makes me love you even more.
In fact, at the first five national parks I visited this year, I was greeted warmly at the gates and granted free entry. I knew eventually I’d pay the $80 for the annual national parks pass, and I did so with gusto this week in Yellowstone. As I napped by the protected Gibbon River after a peaceful picnic, I was grateful to support an organization that made nature so available to me and my fellow humans.
I’m comfortable in the hilly, muddy wilderness, but not everyone is. Yet, my dear National Parks Service, you go out of your way to encourage participation in nature. You make it possible for anyone, of all ages and all shapes, all colors and all backgrounds, to share in the wonders that God has made for all of us. There’s no VIP section in the NPS. It’s for everyone, as America should be.
When I bought my RV in March, I thought perhaps I could visit some state parks in between seeing old friends throughout the United States. But the global pandemic changed those plans. But you were always there for me, NPS. I am able to stay for free in national forest land, and I schedule my travels so I can see as many beautiful sights as I can. I’m social distancing in the most natural way, thanks to you.
I hope you don’t mind if I see you again. I’ll be up near Glacier National Park in a few days, and, well, I barely spent any time in Utah yet. Could I celebrate my birthday with you at Joshua Tree? You’ve already given me so many presents. All you need to do is keep being you.
On behalf of all Americans, with love: me.