It was a year ago when COVID-19 struck and our world changed. Social isolation, masks and hand-washing became the norm. Travel stopped.
When would we return to a pre-pandemic norm? With vaccinations now available, it is possible that by the end of 2021 a semblance of “normal” will be possible.
What do Americans want to do when COVID-19 is in the rear-view mirror? Polling data is clear. We want to travel.
So, where should we go?
The bucket list locations are inviting. A safari in Africa, the Pyramids of Egypt, Machu Picchu, river cruises in Europe, capitols of Europe to include London, Paris, Rome and Madrid, Jerusalem, the Galapagos, the Taj Mahal, Vietnam, climb Mount Fuji, Kathmandu and Mount Everest, Dubrovnik, New Zealand and Australia, Antarctica, running with the bulls in Pamplona and many more.
I suggest another choice: the national parks of the United States.
There are 423 units within the National Park Service’s park system. They include 28 different designations, from national monuments and rivers to national seashores and preserves.
The crown jewels are the park system’s 63 national parks.
Filmmaker Ken Burns had it right when he declared them “America’s Best Idea” in his monumental documentary.
Of the 63 national parks, eight are in Alaska, two in Hawaii and one each in the Virgin Islands and Samoa, leaving 51 in the lower 48.
It takes an act of Congress to designate a national park. The first was Yellowstone in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant was president. The newest is New River National Park in West Virginia, which joined the list on Dec. 27, 2020.
My wife, Peggy, and I have been to 50 of the parks, and New River is now on our bucket list.
We live in the Four Corners region of the country and have an abundance of choices. Utah has five parks, Colorado has four, Arizona has three and New Mexico has two. They are all magnificent, and each one is unique.
My personal favorite has to be Grand Canyon National Park.
My last flight in the Air Force was in an F-15 flying over the canyon. My wife and I rafted down the Colorado River for eight days. We have heard a symphony orchestra play at the North Rim.
During one of our visits, I was in a meeting of the Arizona Town Hall, so Peggy took a mule ride down the Bright Angel Trail. She and the mule bonded, and she was ready to take Buttermilk home to Litchfield Park.
Let me expand the list of parks to visit. From Arcadia in Maine to the Channel Islands in California, from Isle Royale in Lake Superior to Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida, from Big Bend in Texas to Voyageurs on the Canadian border, the parks span America.
I would be remiss not to mention California. With nine parks, it has the largest number and some of the most diverse national parks in the country. From Death Valley to Yosemite, the choices are amazing.
The next time you are driving on Interstate 10 to Los Angeles, consider taking a detour through Joshua Tree National Park. It is worth the stop. Enter at the Cottonwood Visitor Center and head north to Twentynine Palms, then on to L.A.
As you can tell, I love America’s national parks. Let me leave you with two more must-see parks for your bucket list.
Crater Lake in Oregon is spectacular.
It became a lake after a massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago. It is the deepest lake in the United States, and the water is unmatched in color and clarity.
Glacier National Park in Montana is unique and spectacular.
It is connected to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, at the border. Together, they are designated as an International Peace Park World Heritage Site.
I recommend driving the Going to the Sun Road, crossing into Canada and staying at the amazing Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton.
I hope this convinces you to visit our national treasures before traveling abroad.
Growing up, I remember a catchy jingle to “see the USA in your Chevrolet.”
Today, you can see it in a Chevy, an SUV or an RV.
Just do it, and remember to leave no trace to keep each park you visit safe and pristine for future visitors.
Dr. Leonard Kirschner, MPH, is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and longtime medical professional. He lives in Litchfield Park.