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National Lands

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America invented the idea of National Lands, and now, 150 years later, we still have the finest collection of protected lands in the world. Weekend trips and a weeklong Spring Break trip are nice, but major expeditions to national parks will be the source of photo albums and lifelong memories. They become part of family lore.

It's hard to believe the adventures average people can experience in our National Lands. Backpacking into the depths of the Grand Canyon or the vast reaches of the Wind River Wilderness, or along the Continental Divide in Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Surfing off Hatteras Island. Wading up the Virgin River Narrows in Zion. Negotiating a snowy slope high in the Tetons. Paddling past Moose, Beaver and Loon in the Boundary Waters. Listening to wolves howling at night on Isle Royale.

All of these experiences make us want to spend our lives preserving these special places so Americans will always be able to visit them.

A national land vacation becomes a major expedition no matter how you do it. It requires advance planning and some paperwork. Even if you're staying in one of the lodges, you need reservations months ahead. We usually make reservations in the Fall for a trip the following Spring or Summer, or in the Spring for a trip that Fall. To raft the Grand Canyon you need reservations a full year ahead. More and more parks require backpacking permits months in advance. We prefer going to the parks via Amtrak and those trips require reservations at least a month ahead. You need to spend some time in gyms getting in condition and you need to save a little money each month for the trip. We maintain a separate credit card for these trips and pay into it every month, so in effect the trips are prepaid. On a few trips we strongly urge the use of guide services. Glacier Park Wilderness Guides provides guides who carry radios, which not only give them advance notice of hostile weather moving in, but let them know where the grizzlies are (they monitor the grizzlies by transmitters). Enough people have been killed by grizzlies in the park that we think this is a prudent insurance policy. Guides in the Boundary Waters know where the fish are. Eating fresh fish, especially Walleye, in camp every night is enough of a treat to make this investment worthwhile. Guided trips in the Everglades and the Louisiana Bayou avoids getting lost in the maze of shifting islands and currents, which are different every year. Guided trips on the Pascagoula help know where to camp to avoid Alligators. Guides in the Tetons and Yellowstone help avoid bears. Guides can also obtain permits we on our own have difficulty obtaining. The park sets aside a certain number of permits per week for the guide services. That may be unfair, but it's the way the system is. We have also learned a tremendous amount from our guides --- about packing, preparing meals, choosing equipment, etc. Many of the skills we now possess we picked up from these guides.

Notice our definition of National Lands includes the Wind Rivers, Big South Fork, Boundary Waters, Pascagoula, the Enchantments, Red River Gorge, the White Mountains, and Route 66. These are not National Parks. They're National Recreation Areas, Wilderness Areas, National Forests, National Monuments, Canoe Wilderness Areas, National Geologic Areas and National Historic Highways. A few of the great places, such as Red Rock Canyon in California or the Adirondacks in New York, are actually State Parks. But they're administered as national parks and offer the same opportunities.

We highly recommend some parks which stand basically empty. These include Theodore Roosevelt, Organ Pipe Cactus, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, the Big South Fork, and Northern Cascades. If you can't get reservations or permits where you want, try one of these. Also try one of the shoulder seasons. Go to the Boundary Waters in May or early June, to rhe Grand Canyon in April, or to Bryce or Zion in Winter.

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