Yosemite

5 National Parks you should visit this summer

I just did the math. And correct me if I’m wrong. But let’s say you take 84 million acres and multiply it by 49 (states, excluding Delaware). You’d get 4,116,000,000 acres of National Park.

Over 4 billion acres set aside for your endless leisure, provided by your friend Uncle Sam, perhaps the last productive, creative decision he made all those years ago. Please, enjoy it while it lasts.

Now let’s say you have a respectable amount of time blocked off for your summer. Great. You have some National Park roaming to do.

You might have your favorites, and for good reason. And what I’d like to do here is have you share those reasons.

In the meantime, I’ll tell you about my own personal favorites, five fantastic National Parks you should now add to your “Must See This Summer” list.

1. Joshua Tree National Park

The  geological features at Joshua Tree are what you might expect on a moonscape. Only here you have the blazing hot desert sun mercilessly beating down on you. And lots of bizarre vegetation designed to attack you. Paradise in hell’s inferno.

Some say Joshua trees are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. I can see that. To me, Joshua Trees (and every other plant species in this part of the Mojave and Colorado deserts) are straight out of a classic Ralph Steadman sketch: frantic, cruel, hilarious, dramatic.

Weirdness abounds at JTree.

Spring wildflowers bloom with reckless abandon if fall and winter rains are sufficient. Timing is everything.

And those geological features? The National Park Service says it best:

“Arroyos, playas, alluvial fans, bajadas, pediments, desert varnish, granites, aplite, and gneiss interact to form a giant mosaic of immense beauty and complexity.”

2. Grand Canyon National Park

My Grand Canyon advice to you: Go below the rim.

That’s right. An absurd amount of people never venture below the rim, preferring to only peer into the astonishingly deep “big hole in the ground.”

This is not the way you “do” the Grand Canyon.  Where you want to be is in the canyon, doing stuff like rim-to-rim hikes or 28-day raft trips.

Once you’re on the floor looking up, you’ll know what I mean.

Layers upon layers upon layers.

3. Yellowstone National Park

When I first visited Yellowstone National Park as a lad, it seemed I was on a different planet. Grizzlies, buffalo, towering waterfalls, spouting geysers. What the hell is this wild place!?

The vast majority of visitors don’t stray too far from their cars (as cute, cuddly grizzlies dance in the back of their minds). I too am guilty of this sin. I need to work on that.

4. Sequoia National Park

Part of why our National Parks are so special is because they make us feel like tiny, little specks of nothings.

The moment you stand next to a giant sequoia is the moment you realize how small and insignificant you are.

Sequoia groves are often shrouded in a thick fog, adding a mysterious element to your experience. You never know what’s hanging out around the next corner.

5. Yosemite National Park

Maybe my picks weren’t the diverse array of states you were hoping for, as the California Republic claimed three out of five spots. But I think you can agree that Yosemite is like the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of the great outdoors, minus the creepy little orange guys.

Yosemite from above. Note the distinct gathering of Oompa-Loompas in the lower left hand corner.

Waterfalls gush over majestic granite cliffs and domes with what could be pure chocolate for all I know. Gene Wilder himself is even known to paddle the Merced River in a gondola made of candy.

Surely you’ve thought of your five favorite National Parks by now. Do share.

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Marriage proposals in epic conditions

I proposed to my wife almost three years ago to the date while cross-country skiing at Badger Pass in Yosemite. During a freak blizzard. Romantic, no?

There's just something about a blizzard that will always get a woman to say "yes."

After she said “yes,” I believe she said something like “we better get the hell out of here.”

To all you married guys out there, please tell me I’m not the only knucklehead to propose in such harsh conditions. Or am I? Crap.

Why you shouldn’t go up the Half Dome cables

I’m not afraid of much. Not spiders, or snakes, or heights, or being lost, or getting punched in the face.

I realize this makes me sound like a hard, emotionless dude, which isn’t the case.

So when you’re planning a trip to Half Dome, one consistent theme you’ll encounter throughout is the dreaded cable discussion. Will you go?  Will you stay back, wishing you could muster the courage?

The hike up is beautiful, no doubt.

Behold! The sacred Half Dome cables!

To the left of the cables? Death. To the right? Death.

My wife and I sat at the base of the cables for a good hour, watching one fatigued, but determined cable-goer after another tackle the route like pros.

“Oh, come on, you must go up!  You hiked all this way just to quit now,” they said.

Thing is, we didn’t mind “quitting” below the cables. Getting there was inspiring enough. This portion of the hike resembled an amusement park ride.

We saw people walking on the outside of the cables, people slipping on the rickety 2x4s “bolted” into the rock, people gripping the cables for dear life.

At this point, I can officially say I was scared contemplating my next move. I really wanted to see the top like everyone else. And after much debate, we finally decided to give it a shot. I went up first, with my wife right behind me.

Blood pumping, head spinning, muscles acting funny.  A board slips out of the rock, and I’m thinking “to hell with this” but I press on.

Then a petrified lady wearing a fanny pack working her way down the cables clamps onto me for support. She’s mumbling something, and I’m wondering if I’m to die here on this blasted rock. I am now officially freaking out.

That’s it. We’re done. We made it not even halfway up before turning around. Maybe if we had the cables to ourselves and a chance to contemplate the scene in silence, we would’ve made a different decision. But a long lunch and a sunny nap below the cables wasn’t so bad either.

If you have conquered the Half Dome cables, I want to hear from you. Was it worse going up, or coming down? Do you value your life? Do you think I’m overreacting?