I have a love-hate relationship with national parks.
The love part is easy enough. The National Park System protects some of the most beautiful land in the world.
The hate part is more complicated. National parks rightly attract millions of visitors a year. The crush of people eager to drink in their beauty necessitates the park service taking steps to ensure all of us humans don't love the parks to death. So they tend to be more regulated than land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
For example, many parks require visitors to stay on trails. If they didn't, all those feet and hands would trample the soil, vegetation and natural features that make the parks unique.
To help manage all the eager nature lovers, the park service does a wonderful job of interpretation. That means they build really cool trails with lots of signs that educate visitors. But the trails are often lined with fences to keep us humans on track. It's necessary, but leaves those of us who like to get dirt under our fingernails, to climb trees, to skip rocks across lakes, to scramble down river banks for a dip in the water, feeling a bit disconnected from the very nature we flock to parks to experience.
There's a cure for this. It's quite possible to escape the overmanagement by venturing deep into the parks and away from the adoring crowds. Miles from the short nature trails and paved walkways, there is more freedom and more nature. But you have to get the appropriate permits and report your plans to the park service.
So I've always preferred Forest Service and BLM ground, where the rules and crowds are much fewer and the beauty often is just as intense.
But there is no denying the allure of the parks. The redwoods have been calling to my wife, Sadie, for years. This spring, we decided to finally make the trip to Redwood National Park as part of a long journey to Scottsdale, Ariz., for our niece's wedding.
The trip soon snowballed into a National Park tour of the sort I once looked down on. We would hit as many parks as possible; but our need to also consume miles meant our visits would be brief. I compare it to going to a brew pub and getting a sample tray. You only get a few sips of each beer, but you get to taste several. You form opinions and decide which ones deserve a second look.
Our sample tray included Redwood, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Joshua Tree national parks on our way down to the wedding. On the way back, we hit Zion and Bryce national parks. Time required us to make some tough choices. We bypassed Crater Lake, Yosemite and Death Valley on our trip south. Heading home, we had to forgo forays into Grand Canyon and Capital Reef national parks.
Even though we pretty much confined our visits to trails no more than three miles in length, it was a fun experience. And not all of the parks came with overbearing restrictions. In the redwoods, we were free to wander off trails, to touch the bark of the towering giants and to wander through the thousands of ferns beneath them. At Joshua Tree, visitors are free to scramble over the fractured and freaky granite that makes it a rock climbers' paradise. That was a nice surprise.
Parks we'd like to take a deeper dive into include Redwoods, Joshua Tree and Zion. The others were wonderful, but I'd probably choose to sample new parks before planning a return trip.
Plus I still have dozens of destinations right here in Idaho that I need to check of my must-see list.
Barker may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.