Horace Greeley is credited (right or wrong) with coining the 1850s Manifest Destiny mantra, “Go west, young man, go west.” For entirely different reasons than he may have intended, he was right.
My family and I went west one summer. We traveled, by car, 6,500 miles through the Arkansas Ozarks, past the rambling, weathered farmhouses of Nebraska and Iowa. We raced road-side pheasants through the Badlands of South Dakota and wound and twisted through the Black Hills and colossal Mount Rushmore carvings to patiently await bison crossing the road in nearby Custer State Park. A side-trip through the Crow Reservation in Montana brought us through Cody, Wyoming, our gateway to the mighty snow-covered Yellowstone. We watched storm clouds settle on the glaciers of the Grand Tetons and waterfalls drip from the highest cliffs of Utah’s magnificent Zion National Park. I captured the brilliant red hues of sunlight passing over Bryce Canyon, and we cradled our cameras in our shirts to shield them from the harsh blowing sand of Moab’s desert arches. And I have never, in my life, experienced such fullness of God’s creation.
I lived out West when I went to college. And frankly, I couldn’t wait to come back East. I have never taken for granted the fact that I married a Westerner who was willing to cross the Mississippi River. My roots are in the South where the smell of fresh cut grass rises before a storm, where the winters are mild, where people eat grits and red-ripe tomatoes on biscuits. But there is nothing as inspiring as the national parks of the West. To see a horizon that stretches for uninterrupted miles, to see the thick green foliage of the Virgin River cut through the black and red cliffs of Zion, to watch elk bathing in the Yellowstone River under the shadow of snow-capped mountains in June is to see God’s creation in its fullness and its power and its glory. To stand across the river from the Grand Teton glaciers is to feel our smallness and God's bigness.
What a gift to generations of Americans. How dare I take it for granted that I had to travel a mere thousand miles when the Japanese tourists hiking alongside me willingly travelled the globe? Whether we visit the parks of the west or any other of the 58 national parks in America, we are a part of something uniquely American. After filming Ken Burns' National Parks documentary, one of his crew members offered such a striking analogy. He said that the American National Parks are the essence of democracy. Of democracy? Yes. You see, this award-winning film crew captured virtually all of their breathtaking views from the trails and overlooks that park rangers have mapped out for all visitors. Arguably the greatest documentary producer in the world photographed the exact same vistas my family and I shot with our Canon Rebel. Our national parks are a beautiful picture of the freedom of opportunity upon which this nation was founded, as well as a beautiful snapshot of God's artistry. We owe it to an upcoming generation to explore and celebrate their magnificence.