Parks of Every Variety

They’re Not Just National, You Know

By Jeff Salter

I have visited a LOT of parks and monuments (and reserves) over the years and, to tell the truth, I can’t recall which were “national” and which were “state.” It was sufficient for me to know that somebody was taking care of them and allowing us to share in their beauty.

In a blog from this time four years ago, I briefly describe our first family vacation in 1958, which included stopovers in several parks (large and small). With the exception of the following year, I believe we took a long trip annually until we left LA in summer of 1965. In those travels, we covered pieces of about 30 states, as I recall.

Though a few places were bland or disappointing [see my list below], most of the parks we visited were majestic and inspiring and elevated — nothing at all like the flat, humid, nearly sea level southeast Louisiana where we lived. I was so impressed by many of our tours, that I decided I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up — I wanted to be the guy living there and conducting those tours!

As I read over my partial list, three things stick out:
** The places I most enjoyed were those which allowed us the most free rein to explore on our own.
** Since our home turf was mostly flat, I was especially fond of parks where we could climb stuff — the higher, the better.
** The parks which allowed hands-on experiences were far more memorable than those with barriers where you could only gaze upon features from a distance.


Bandolier — up the rustic ladders

Some Of The Especially Memorable Places

One of my all-time favorite memories (and one of our earliest trips — probably fourth grade) is Bandolier National Monument (NM) — where my big brother and I scampered up rustic ladders to a partly reconstructed Kiva some 140 feet up a steep cliff. Our parents turned us loose and we had the time of our lives. In retrospect, I never would’ve let my own 9-year-old make that climb (unless I was directly behind him/her). Bandolier also had a long hiking trail which we set out upon, assuming from the posted sign that it was about 1.4 miles long. Turns out that was the distance ONE-WAY. So my young legs tired quickly and my dad had to carry me on his back for half of the return trip.


Bandolier — the partly reconstructed KIVA (some 140 feet up the cliff)

Yellowstone National Park (mostly WY) — We saw Old Faithful spout, we saw bears swarm around the lined-up cars, and I was especially intrigued by volcanic pits of bubbling whatever.

Yosemite National Park (CA) — We traipsed among titanic sequoias and redwoods and saw (in the distance) El Capitan cliff. One evening, we witnessed the Yosemite Firefall, a warm weather event, in which burning hot embers were spilled from the top of Glacier Point to the valley 3,000 feet below.

Side-by-side California parks, with enormous boulders to climb and majestic giant trees to ooh and ahh over were Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park.

Craters of the Moon National Monument (ID) — Charles and I were allowed to go exploring by ourselves and had a memorable time.

Grand Canyon National Park (AZ) — We wanted to go to the bottom but had insufficient time or $$$ (or both). Actually I saw this twice… the second time with Denise and toddler David.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NM) — Beautiful and spooky when they turned out the lights. Visited this twice also… the second time with Denise, very pregnant with David.

Bryce Canyon National Park (UT) — Romped all over the trails… had a great time.

Zion National Park (UT) — beautiful trails, but don’t recall any particulars.

Mammoth Cave (KY) — I visited this site as a grownup with kids.

Mesa Verde National Park (CO) — We arrived too late in the day to visit the pueblos close-up, but we could see them in the distance.

State Parks I Enjoyed

Longhorn Cavern State Park (TX) — Don’t recall how or why, but our family had the tour guide to ourselves. Not as many features as Carlsbad and not nearly the extent of its network, but it was fun to enjoy it “privately”.

Huge outdoor swimming “pool” — (Toyahvale TX) part of Balmorhea State Park.  Fed by a DEEP natural spring. Billed as the world’s largest spring-fed pool (at the time), it freaked me out to swim across the deep end and see all sorts of marine life many leagues below me.

Silver Springs State Park (FL) — Not only was it beautiful, but it was legendary because most of the water scenes of the early Tarzan films were supposedly filmed there. It was also not far from Ross Allen’s Reptile Farm, another highlight of my childhood.

Dinosaur Valley State Park (TX) which had a few preserved dinosaur tracks still visible in the stone.

Parks That Were Something of a Let-Down

Petrified Forest National Park (AZ) — I had expected to see solidified, standing Triassic trees. But it was mostly partial logs and small chunks of logs / branches scattered on the ground … and they would not allow you to take souvenirs.

Painted Desert (mostly AZ) — hardly has a separate identity from the Petrified Forest. Everything was way off in the distance and it was not nearly as colorful as the brochures suggested.

Great Salt Lake State Park (UT) — Supposedly the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere. Its size varies with water level, but typically covers about 1700 square miles. Yep — lake, large, salty water. Not a thrill since we’d been to Lake Ponchartrain numerous times.

Meteor Crater (AZ) [a National Natural Landmark] — Despite its importance as a geological site, the crater is not protected as a national monument, a status that would require federal ownership. At 3900 feet diameter and 560 feet depth, it was just an enormous hole in the ground. I would’ve enjoyed it more if they’d let me climb down to the bottom like Jeff Bridges (later) did in Starman.

White Sands National Monument (NM) — not to be confused with the missile range. Yep, plenty of sand and all white … and you never got it out of your shoes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park (CO) — Yeah, plenty of dunes, all sand… a great place to film a Sahara Desert movie without traveling to Africa.

Everglades National Park (FL) — near the southern tip of Florida. I’d expected a massive swamp like I’d seen in the movies, but it was more like the woods of Louisiana. We saw no animals to speak of… just a wooden pedestrian causeway through a teeny corner of the park (and skeeters… which I’d been told would guarantee us catching malaria).

La Brea Tar Pits (CA) — tiny black pit in the middle of downtown L.A. with a chain link fence around it. All the dinosaurs had already been pulled out and stuck in museums somewhere else.

Places I’d Never Go Back To

Big Bend National Park (TX) — the southernmost tip of Texas. All I remember was intense heat and thousands of gnats that aimed specifically for your eyes and nostrils. Misery… and nothing to “see”.

Other Cool Places

When we lived in Catahoula Parish LA for a few years, one of our favorite haunts was a little ( ? parish ? ) park on a hill above Harrisonburg. Fort Beauregard was one of four Confederate forts guarding the Ouachita River during the Civil War. Nothing remained of the fort itself, but the park had rocks to climb, trails to hike, and cool “stairs” (steps cut into enormous logs). It was fun to visit.

Other places we’ve lived (or visited) have had lovely parks with streams, caves, waterfalls, trails, and whatever — I’ve enjoyed them all. Most were local unheralded parks, such as the lovely ones my brother always found wherever he lived.


What about you? Which big parks have you enjoyed? Which have been disappointing?

[JLS # 293]



About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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22 Responses to Parks of Every Variety

  1. Julie says:

    You forgot about Petit Jean in Arkansas. All of the huge rocks were fun to climb on. I still want to go back and take the kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jeff7salter says:

    One of the many things which impressed me about Bandolier park — especially that kiva up the cliff-side — was that you could still see the foot and hand holds which the Native Americans had carved into the face of the rock. So, while we were climbing those rustic ladders, we were only (in some cases) a few feet away from the more primitive “steps” used by the people who actually built the kiva and used it for whatever rituals or meetings.


  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Love your detailed list! Thanks for the warnings about the ones you didn’t enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Somebody else might have found the “painted desert” — way off in the distance — a lot more interesting than I did.


  4. jeff7salter says:

    One of the things we quickly learned about traveling in the western U.S. with all those mountain ranges — a mountain that looked like it was just “over yonder” might actually be a hard, half day’s hike away from you.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I always thought that “over yonder” simply meant “not here.” Didn’t realize that meant less than a half-day’s hike.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jeff7salter says:

        LOL. We’d be riding along and would see the mountains we wanted to climb on. And they looked SOOOOO close. We’d beg my parents to stop so we could zip over and climb for a while.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great list of parks. It seems like you have had many adventures. I can’t imagine climbing those ladders.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I wouldn’t be able to, as an adult, either. But as a kid, up through about high school — I was fearless. I have to say the ladders in the pix look a lot more sturdy and uniform than the ones I remember climbing over half a century ago.


  6. jbrayweber says:

    Well, now I’m a little bummed. I’ve never been to a national park. Geez…I’ve only been to a handful of historic or state parks. I like to travel, mostly to anyplace with a beach, but I hate to “travel”, meaning the drives. That said, I had tossed around the idea of taking the kiddos to Garner State Park in Texas in the next year or two. Maybe even go tubing down the Guadalupe River. Give them a chance to rally enjoy the natural outdoors.

    Great list, Jeff!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. jbrayweber says:

    No. Too far again. I’m not much for driving. But I *have* been to a dozen islands off Texas and in the Caribbean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I’ve been to very few islands. The most notable were on a cruise I took with wife, kids, in-laws in fall of 1998. New Orleans to St. Pete, then to two islands I can’t remember now and somewhere in Yucatan. Gosh, why can’t I remember the names?


  8. J.Q. Rose says:

    Enjoyed your list of parks and the pros and cons. I had the exact same feeling of disappointment at the Petrified Forest, but the painted desert was beautiful when we were there this past June. It’s probably all in the lighting.Were you kidding about visiting 30 states? Oh my. Your parents are saints!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, J.Q. No, I’m not kidding. We did the entire southwest, as well as up the west coast to Seattle. Picked up ID and NV and WY along the way. To the east, we’ve hit everything from LA, MS, AL, GA, FL and at least SC. Midwest, we hit AR MO, IA, IL. Northeast, we hit TN, NC, VA, NY, NJ, and Wash DC
      Later in life, I went to KY, OH, IN, MA, MD, & PA.
      I think I’ve tallied it that I’ve either lived in or visited or traveled through 37 states and most — I estimate 30 — of those were on those family trips as a youngster.


  9. Craters of the Moon! That is an incredibly strange place! It would seem like there was a nuclear blast there, but apparently it was created by a volcano.
    As for The Petrified Forest, there are precious few trees, but the incredible amounts of small fossils is staggering.Unfortunately, only a tiny percent have been excavated.

    Liked by 1 person

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