March 11, 2010

The Ken Burns Effect: National Parks

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Spring Break is fast approaching, which means two things: First, I am utterly incapable of concentrating on anything remotely concerned with academics, and second, I want to get out of Ithaca and go on an adventure, badly. Not the same ol’ Spring Break on-the-beach-with-drinks adventure, mind you, but a real journey into an unknown area of the world.

However, as of late my aspirations have tended to be more domestic, and I’ve sought inspiration for a fabulous Spring Break trip from the PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, filmed by the indomitable Ken Burns. Released last fall and running nearly 12 hours, the documentary chronicles the founding of our country’s national park system, highlighting important personalities and illuminating all the wonderful areas of the country set aside for our enjoyment.

So, taking my cue from Ken Burns’ in­spiring cinematography, I’m using my column this week to highlight five national parks you’ve likely never heard of, but ought to check out this spring (or in general):

Acadia: In lieu of heading south to a tropical island, head north this spring to Mount Desert Island in eastern Maine, home to Acadia National Park. Adventure opportunities at the park include testing your fear of heights on the Honeycomb hike, rock hopping along Jordan pond and sea kayaking in the frigid Atlantic Ocean. You won’t want to miss: the sunrise over Cadillac mountain.

Big Bend: Located in the “Big Bend Region” of Texas, this park runs along the U.S. / Mexican border of the Rio Grande, and boasts warm days and chilly nights in breath-taking open desert scen­ery. Bird­ing enthusiasts will be delighted with the stunning array of avian fauna, and regular old nature lovers will appreciate a rare sighting of wild pigs (javelinas) or the ubiquitous jackrabbit. You won’t want to miss: the views from the summit of Emory Peak (7,381 feet), the second tallest mountain in Texas.

Glacier: Located in Montana and bordering the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, this wild park boasts a bevy of beasts you’re unlikely to catch sight of anywhere near Ithaca: Grizzly bears, wolverines and lynxes top the list of exotic species rarely glimpsed outside of a natural resources textbook. You won’t want to miss: taking a photo of the Grinnell Glacier before it’s gone forever.

Olympic: Another site known for its breath-taking coastal hiking, Olympic National Park lies along the coast of Washington. Perks of the park include camping among enormous pieces of driftwood, trying your hand at surfing and pretending you’re Max from Where the Wild Things Are in the temperate rainforest. You won’t want to miss: the immensely popular Ozette Loop hike.

Virgin Islands: Some of you might already be heading to St. John this spring, so why not check out the national park that covers almost 60 percent of the island?  Famous for its amazing snorkeling and scuba diving in pristine aquamarine water, the Virgin Islands National Park also contains miles of spectacular hiking trails that wind through wild vegetation, sandy beaches and ancient ruins. You won’t want to miss: snorkeling in Trunk Bay with sea turtles and barracuda.

This Spring Break, think local and (re)discover our country’s backyard.  I’ll see you out there!  RLD

Original Author: Guy Ross