By Diana C. Derringer
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
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 America’s national parks. Nowhere else in all God’s creation have we found such variety, majesty, and wonder.
Great Smoky Mountains
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. The fog lifts early mornings in Cades Cove to display the best of both.
Whether you prefer a road trip, hiking, biking, fishing, whitewater rafting, or quietly sitting while you soak in its pristine beauty, opportunities abound in the Smokies.
Our number one travel destination remains Montana and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone offers everything a nature lover desires. A person can find serenity at its lakes while fishing or simply relaxing and enjoying the view. The mountains soar. Waterfalls thunder over cliffs. Walks to the bottom of the Upper and Lower Falls never disappoint. Although desolate at first glance, the areas suffering from devastating fires display God’s natural plan for reforestation. Before the smoke clears, new trees, flowers, and other vegetation begin sprouting.
Wildlife covers the park, particularly the meadows in early morning and late afternoon. However, animals can be seen everywhere and all the time. Herds of buffalo frequently stop traffic while they meander across the road. Trust me, they have the right-of-way. A word to the wise: Heed the warning signs. Buffalo may appear docile, but they outweigh humans and can outrun you. Enjoy viewing all of Yellowstone’s wildlife, but keep your distance.
More than any other attraction, Yellowstone’s seismic activity demands our return. We join the throngs when Old Faithful blows, but so many people fail to probe the park’s other geysers, mud pots, steam vents, and hot springs. Every time we visit, we discover new possibilities for exploration.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
For a massive dose of humility, visit Sequoia National Park in California’s southern Sierra Nevada. There we find the “world’s largest living thing,” the General Sherman tree. Standing in its shadow, or the shadow of any of the giant trees, reminds us how small we are compared to many of earth’s inhabitants. According to the National Park Service’s official map and guide for Sequoia and Kings Canyon, “In volume of total wood, the giant sequoia stands alone as the largest living thing on earth. At least one tree species lives longer, one has a greater diameter, three grow taller, but none is larger.”
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. On our last trip, unseasonable amounts of summer rain caused such heavy surf that staff closed Thunder Hole’s walkway. As we resumed our drive and walk along the shore that day, I dared not blink unless absolutely necessary. The relentless pounding of water against the shoreline reminded me over and over again of our Creator’s awesome power.
It also reminded me that we must maintain a healthy respect for all of nature—its danger as well as its beauty.
Explorers continue to discover new territory in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest known cave system. They have already mapped more than 400 miles, including 14 miles of developed trails. Who knows where the future will lead?
Visitors to Mammoth Cave choose from several tour options, depending on their time, age, size, stamina, and mobility. When first entering the cave, it may appear empty of animal life. However more than 200 species have been discovered, including several with no eyes or pigmentation, characteristics of life in the dark.
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.
In addition to cave tours, above-ground activities include hiking, camping, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and bicycling.
Whether we prefer spending our leisure above or below ground, Mammoth Cave promises to keep us as busy as we choose to be.
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. Some spend a few hours, others a few days. 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.
Viewing the canyon exclusively from the rims satisfies the typical visitor. Shuttle buses run on a regular schedule along the South Rim. Travelers desiring more adventure can choose from mule trips, helicopter rides, smooth or whitewater rafting, and hiking trails for different perspectives of this magnificent hole in the ground.
Making a Difference
I wonder if the people who established Yellowstone as a national park in 1872 had any idea of the number and size of our parks today. The still-growing, protected open spaces, environmental advances, and pleasures afforded visitors from around the world challenge each of us to make the most of all our natural resources.
Following the world’s creation, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). 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.
Diana Derringer writes from Kentucky and wherever else her feet may roam (www.dianaderringer.com).