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Appreciating our National Parks

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The National Parks in the South offer great adventures without the crowds and cost of other summer vacation sites.
This nation's national parks are an underused resource.

I've always said that Americans do not utilize the country's national parks like they should. Even with the summer hoards that flock to Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, other parks languor in the heat with fewer visitors than I think should be visiting these great treasures. 

While on my vacation a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to give some Missouri cousins some instructions on the best routes through the canyon country of the Southwest – starting at the Grand Canyon and traveling through Glen Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands 

I've had great adventures in that area – including administering a Save the Canyon program for the National Parks Service. I plan on having a few more adventures in those parks as long as the knees hold out.  

But, even closer to here in the Delta states, there are great places managed by the NPS that many people have never heard of, much less visited.  

Parks like Hot SpringsMammoth Cave, The Great Smoky Mountains, are good places to explore and if you hit them at the right time, the crowds are pretty sparse. If time allows, I'd always rather travel on the Natchez Trace Parkway at 45 to 55 miles an hour than a regular state highway or interstate at higher speeds. The parkway is peaceful and always seems about 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding country and a world away. 

I found at least 26 sites and heritage areas in the Delta states that are managed by the NPS. Beyond the Delta, but within a manageable driving distance, there are many, many more. 

The heritage sites include Civil War battle grounds and historical sites, including Abraham Lincoln's birthplace in Kentucky and the George Washington Carver Monument, in Missouri. 

Other sites celebrate the natural beauty of the United States. The Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi and Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee are places that need to be seen and appreciated for their spectacular landscapes. 

As a kid we had some great vacations in the national parks. At this point in my life I appreciate the time I spent as a kid with my family in these parks more than I even remember time spent at Disneyland. 

About six months after my mom passed away, I visited Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona because I found a photo that Dad had taken there of Mom and us four kids about 40 years earlier. I thought it would be cool to try and find the exact spot where we had taken the photo. I walked right to it.  

There was no one close at hand to disturb me while I took the picture and remembered the trip. The canyon was cool and quiet. I appreciate the National Park Service for preserving those spaces. We need to use them more. 

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