I have a serious travel bug. Fortunately, so does my husband. For the first few years of our marriage, we limited our travel to visiting the family and friends we’d left behind in the Midwest and Southeast when we moved to Washington State. There wasn’t money or vacation days for anything else, except an overnight each year on our anniversary to somewhere nearby. But then last year we went to Europe, and I realized something. I like vacations with only my husband. I like going somewhere just because we think it’s a cool place to see. So this summer, we’re doing it again.
No, not Europe. Alas, it took us a long time to save up the money and frequent flyer miles for our trip last year, and we just can’t manage another one right now. But this trip has been in the making (at least in the back of my mind) for almost two years, since PBS first aired Ken Burns’s latest uber-long documentary: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
Did you know that the US came up with the idea of national parks? It started in 1864–during the Civil War, of all times. A senator from California proposed a bill to set aside part of the Yosemite Valley to the state of California not to be developed or sold, but to be kept in its natural state so that current and future generations could enjoy it. No one objected, and in less than two months, it was law. This land is now part of a national park, but the first true national park, which was run by the federal government but kept accessible for all Americans, was Yellowstone. It became such in 1872.
While Yellowstone is, so I’ve heard, absolutely gorgeous, and, in the grand scheme of things, not that far away from Seattle, it was another early park that caught my attention on this wonderful program. Glacier National Park in western Montana became the tenth national park 1910. Native American tribes, including the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai, had been living in the area for centuries. Early European explorers came in search of fur pelts, then stayed because of the mining opportunities and eventually land in general. The Great Northern Railway was completed in 1891, drawing new visitors and homesteaders to the area. Today, Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs from Seattle to some of the towns on the edge of the park, including Kalispell and Whitefish. I wish we could have taken a train to the park, but because we wanted to see other things on the way there and back, a car trip made more sense. We’re looking forward to traveling Going to the Sun Road, a fifty-two-mile mountain highway that cuts through the park and was considered a marvel of modern engineering when it was completed in 1933.
On our way out, we’ll drive through North Cascades National Park along Washington’s Highway 20. It’s the last national park in our adopted state that we need to visit, having already been to Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. We’re also planning to visit two Jesuit missions, St. Ignatius in Montana, a few hours south of Glacier, and Cataldo Mission in Idaho. Both missions were founded in the mid-1800s by Jesuit priests who wanted to teach Christianity to local Native Americans. St. Ignatius also boasts fifty-eight frescos from Brother Joseph Carignano, who worked as a cook at the mission and had no formal art training. Cataldo Mission is one of the oldest buildings in Idaho.
For more on the national park system in general, and Ken Burns’s take on it in particular, visit http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/