20 November 2023
With my 60-Ways Challenge behind me, people delight in asking, "What's next?" Such a good question, one for which I do not yet have an answer. However, it does initiate an interesting train of thoughts. To wit:
National Parks. National Monuments. National Memorials. National Preserves and Reserves. National Seashores and Lakeshores. National Battlefields, Historic Sites, Rivers, Recreation Areas, and on and on.
The National Park System features well over 400 sites of various pedigrees (and I have visited over ¾ of them). In the spirit of diversity, I would like to propose another, new category:
National Bucket List.
Think of it. For those who want to have an ultimate experience while pursuing an interest which drives them, these NBLs could identify places perfect for those activities. Among others, NBLs could be created for birdwatchers, or rock climbers, or to experience wildlife.
In that spirit, I hereby propose a National Parks Grand-Adventures National Bucket List. Having researched and then visited all the parks, I know many of the wonders they offer. For an ultimate experience, you'd have to spend several days minimum in each park, time to let it really infiltrate your soul. Let this list, then, serve as a hint of adventures that I'd love to tackle, if everything fell into place. ('Everything' meaning a source of income that would let me afford it, and to pay for friends to accompany me, along with extra money to pay my hospital bills if I suggested to Sue I'd be galivanting again.)
(NOTE that this list passes on the biggest adventures I lived during 60-Ways, such as dogsledding in Denali or camping with the Katmai bears. Been there, done that, this is for new adventures.)
Yes, half or more of the items on the list involve athletic endeavors - but a few would require no training or 'getting in shape'. Adventure can reside in less-energetic pursuits, also. It all depends on your frame of mind when you participate in them.
Onward to my Top Ten list for new adventures!
10. A Man, A Boat, and Nature: kayaking Lake Clark wilderness.
Yes, I spent five hours one day paddling in Lake Clark, venturing into a bit of wilderness - which is why this only ranks as #10. That 60-Ways paddle was merely an appetizer. I would cherish an opportunity to sign up for a guided tour in the middle of the wilderness, perhaps visiting several smaller lakes.
9. Sea Turtle Serendipity: immersing yourself into the world of one of the Virgin Islands' iconic residents. I missed the chance in March to snorkel with the turtles,
so I would spend two or three days doing so here. I would also volunteer for turtle-related activities, such as counting turtle eggs.
8. The Journey becomes the Destination: paddling the Little Missouri River
between the north and south units of Theodore Roosevelt NP. The NPS page for TRNP says it takes about five days to float through the bottomland, a landscape punctuated by cottonwood trees and grasslands, hemmed in by badlands. But be prepared for surprises! According to the park site: "Water levels [on the river] vary daily; easy paddling one day can become a trip requiring frequent portages the next. ... Summer thunderstorms and resulting floods may cause water levels to increase with little or no warning transforming the quiet river into a raging torrent carrying large logs and debris." What a way to leave the modern world behind!
7. A Man, A Boat, and Moose: in September, I helped shut down Isle Royale for the season. With more time to arrange plans, I would've gone earlier in the season, when outfitters ran kayaking tours on the island. Such a tour would let me see the more remote parts of the island, places most people will never see.
Perhaps it would include a side trip to see the island, in a lake, on an island, in a lake! [For an alternative - or add-on - way to become one with the park, I could apply for an Artist-In-Residence position there, spending an uninterrupted week or two merging with the landscape - and looking for the elusive moose!]
6. Uncage Your Inner Artist: not every adventure needs to tax your muscles.
How about spending a week taking classes on drawing - painting - sketching - poetry? The Yosemite Conservancy offers classes with professional artists giving you helpful hints amid fantastic scenery. You can take home more that just a photograph from your time there. (Plan ahead! The art center had closed down during the week of my visit in August 2022.) Another alternative is a week of yoga classes, or shooting a round of golf at the only public golf course inside a national park.
5. Live the Light Life: how better to experience a park than to live there?
In 2022, Acadia introduced a pilot program where they had a volunteer live in a lighthouse for the tourist season (Memorial Day to Indigenous American Day) as long as they mingled with the public, answering questions about the park for at least 32 hours/week. I received word that the program worked well that first year; I have not checked back to see if they repeated that in 2023. One must get lucky to check this item off your list, as Acadia has only one lighthouse available to live in. You may have a better chance at snagging an artist-in-residence slot: there are four slots open for 2024 (application deadline has passed) providing 14 days of lodging and a travel subsidy.
4. Get Dwarfed: Okay, I put one adventure on the list that I've done before, decades ago - one that still resonates with me.
In the 80s, I joined with five friends in Zion to hike the entire 16-mile stretch of the Virgin River that flows through the Narrows, with canyon walls soaring a thousand feet high, with a canyon only 20-30' wide. There is a short window of time each year where you can take the hike (which runs through a narrow canyon prone to flooding). In the winter, the water is too cold (since you are wading or swimming through it for most of the 'hike'); in the summer, pop-up rainstorms threaten flash floods on a regular basis. The sweetest spot is during September or early October. Bonus: since it only takes two days (camping overnight in the canyon), I would add a third day for a long hike to Kolob Arch, at one time thought to be the largest natural arch in the world. (It's a seven-mile hike to get there.)
3. Geology Up Close and Personal: in 2022, Grand Canyon had 1% more visitors than Zion, making it the second-most-visited National Park in the U.S.
(Great Smoky Mountains ranked as #1, with well over twice as many visitors). Now that I've seen it from both rims, I have another fantasy - hike from rim to rim, with a stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom. Since the trail runs 16 miles from the north rim to the bottom, it should take three days (two down, one up). This would top the list of physical challenges on this NBL. Alternatives for this park? Rafting the Colorado River is an ultimate experience (expect a couple of weeks to accomplish this with an outfitter). And a third choice would be a four-wheel drive exploration of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Grand Canyon teems with tourists - in GC-P, you'd likely not see another soul on your visit as you gazed upon grand scenery few people will ever see.
2. Warm Up to a Tropical Adventure: If you read my previous post, you probably guessed that this would appear on the list - snorkeling in American Samoa!
To repeat, the effort to get to Ofu Island - "catch a four-times weekly flight from Pago Pago to Taʻū, then catch a ride to the wharf on the other side of the (small) island, then convince a fisherman to take you across to Ofu" - would certainly give you an in-depth introduction to island life. To then spend several idyllic days floating in the protected coves, walking on white sand beaches, and photographing the tropical scenery would generate a lifetime of memories. Not to mention the adventure in returning to 'civilization' (if you chose to!).
1. Tundra and Aurora: what could possibly rank higher on an adventure list than working side-by-side with a park ranger for a week in the field?
That is the premise and promise of the Voices of the Wilderness program, an Alaskan extension of the NPS Artist-In-Residence program. I have applied twice and failed to win a coveted spot twice. The list of parks hosting spots changes from year to year, but often includes Wrangell-St. Elias and/or one of the two arctic parks (as well as numerous BLM or NFS sites). As a backup for those years when others get chosen, I would replace that with a float trip down the Kobuk River through Kobuk Valley, a week or more becoming one with the tundra and (hopefully) reveling in the glow of the Northern Lights.
There - a proposal for the inaugural National Bucket List. Interestingly, it includes the five least-visited National Parks and four of the six most popular ones. (Only Theodore Roosevelt and Virgin Island lay in between). It does leave out such other varied adventures as floating through Big Bend's Santa Elena Canyon, kayaking between Channel Islands, joining a charity bike ride through Death Valley (which I considered last year), backpacking along Olympic's rock coast, and even climbing Mt. Rainier (my podiatrist had an outfitter guide him to the summit several years ago). It also omits such pipe dreams as a tour through Lechugilla Cave (in Carlsbad Cavern NP), or taking a canopy tour in one of the two 'big tree' parks. Both of those are only open to scientists or special events - but a man can always dream, right?
Let me know what you'd add or subtract to the bucket list!