recently had a sale, one program of which was, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns.

Given the time of the year, summer, and my love of the Great Outdoors, I had to take advantage of the sale to learn more about the history of our National Park System.

My first experience of the awe-inspiring beauty of a National Park was during a family road trip to visit some relatives in Tennessee.

First, we visited Rock City in Northern Georgia and Lookout Mountain, from atop which we could see seven states.

Then we were on to Gatlinburg, the kitschy tourist town at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Having grown up amidst concrete streets, densely packed housing and the steel skyscrapers of Chicago, The Smoky Mountains were a revelation.

My main memory was of the unbroken expanse of lush trees blanketing the hills for as far as I could see in all directions, peacefully standing against the backdrop of crystal clear, blue sky.

I’d never seen anything so wondrous in my short life.

While we didn’t camp, we did stop for lunch at a campground where I saw my first wild animal — outside of rats, squirrels and pigeons.

As we settled down to eat, a Black Bear calmly wandered into the campground and began helping itself to one family’s lunch.

The family, meanwhile, hurriedly took refuge inside their station wagon, content to find food elsewhere knowing they were lucky enough to have avoided being the bear’s lunch.

Needless to say, we fled the area without further incident.

While at the park, we didn’t camp overnight, we didn’t take an extended backwoods backpacking trip, nor did we venture far from the paved roads and scenic overlooks, but I did leave the park knowing my life would change drastically…at some point in the future.

I realized then that there is such natural beauty in our great country, and that people actually lived in or near places such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I wanted, not only to visit these places, but also to live as close to mountains as I could…

Which eventually brought me to Colorado, thankfully.

Every summer when our SMAA families head out for our National Parks & Forests, State Parks & Forest, National Monuments, etc. I am so excited to hear about their journeys because I can relive my own adventures, hear about places I’ve yet to visit, and share with them the majestic experiences of our public lands.

Wallace Stegner was right when he said, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

I hope you get out this summer, whether you’re staying in our beautiful state or traveling far and wide.

Relax, bathe in the beauty of nature and leave it all behind for a little while.


We’ll be here when you get back.