In the early 1960s, my family took two cross-country car trips with three kids, no air conditioning, and no seatbelts. On one trip, we visited the southern national parks, and on the other, the northern parks. I was a blasé teenager, but the parks made a big impression on me.
When my own boys were young, we visited my husband’s home state of Oregon every summer. Those family vacations were wonderful, but after my husband died, when the boys were just 8 and 12 years old, our first trip back to Oregon without him was painful.
I knew the three of us needed to create a new family tradition. So when I stumbled on a book about the great lodges of the American West, I had an inspiration: We would visit every lodge in that book—12 in all—plus the national parks they were built to serve. Over the next five summers, until my older son left for college, we made our way to Yellowstone, Glacier, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, Crater Lake, and many more parks. We spent at least a night in each park lodge, but we also camped out.
I know my kids will never forget our trip to Death Valley. We were camping, and had already settled into our tent for the night when we heard a commotion. We hurried outside to see our campsite neighbors pointing at the sky—to the Northern Lights. My boys had never seen them before. It was a magical night.
The parks were such a change from our lives in New York City. I still get goose bumps when I think about visiting Sequoia National Park. I had never seen anything as spectacular as those trees. For me, they were a religious experience. What a tragedy to think the sequoias might not be there for the next generation because of global warming and other threats!
Thoreau said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” That’s why I’ve made the National Park Foundation a beneficiary of my IRA. I know the Foundation will spend my money wisely to preserve the parks for the next 100 years—and beyond. No place on earth is more beautiful than our national parks, and I truly believe the beauty we see there makes us better people.