This is a celebratory week for people like me (and probably you, too). Today is Earth Day, yesterday would have been John Muir’s 177th birthday, and this whole week is National Park Week. That combination is more than enough to get my heart fluttering with thoughts of nature, but in case you need a little more convincing I’ll see if I can pull you outside with me. Here in Ashland, we are extremely well-positioned in terms of access to National Parks. I’ll spare you a lengthy ode to the Parks for now and instead remind you of five nearby that are always worth a visit, no matter how many times you may have been before. Four make for nice full day trips. One is better experienced with a bit of camping.
High above the valley of the Illinois River, the granite of the Siskiyous has given way to water and acid over the centuries. The result is a spectacular labyrinth of underground passages adorned with stalagmites and stalactites, cave popcorn, soda straws, and more. Feeling a little claustrophobic? No worries. Hike to sweeping views of the Siskiyous, a truly massive Douglas Fir, or high glacial lakes.
Lead your own cave tour through the lava tubes that once fed Medicine Lake Volcano. The caves are easily accessible, and the landscape above is just as grand. Junipers dot the rocky plains and hillsides, and a hike to the top of Schonchin Butte will afford you views of Mt. McLoughlin and Mt. Shasta.
Redwood National & State Parks
It’s more than just big trees (though, those are pretty great). Maybe you’ve walked through Stout Grove more times than you think is enough, but what about the costal areas of these parks? What about Elk Prairie? Or, if you want to give the trees another chance, how much time have you spent looking down in the redwoods instead of up? Turn over some logs. You’re bound to find a salamander in the ever-moist understory.
Crater Lake National Park
It’s Southern Oregon’s iconic landmark, and for good reason. Normal years would have much of the Rim still snowed in and accessible only by snowshoe or ski at this point. The bad news/good news here is that this is a year threatening to end with record lows in snowfall totals. Bad news if this trend continues, but there is a silver lining. The good news is that parts of the Rim Drive are already being plowed, so access is easier by the un-snowshoed foot to more places earlier than normal. Perhaps you’ve made the drive around the West Rim more times than you can remember. But have you walked it, taking the time to sit and drink in the view of the bluest water on a sunny day? Crater Lake is just a checkmark on a list for a lot of people. Turn it into more than that with a longer and more deliberate visit.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Not as quick a trip, but still easily reached! Just like Crater Lake, most years would see this park snowed in for a while longer, but roads may be fully opened by the end of the month this year. If you haven’t been to Lassen, now’s the time! It’s one of the least visited parks in the lower 48 (less than half a million visitors in 2014), which makes it even more appealing with crowds much smaller than its nearby Californian neighbors. All four types of volcano (did you know there were four?) are represented here, along with geothermal areas akin to those of Yellowstone and alpine lakes reminiscent of the Wallowas. Lassen Peak marks the southern end of the Cascade Range and is well worth an overnight trip.
Of course, there are many more National Parks within a decent drive of Ashland. These are just highlights, vignettes intended to inspire. Our National Parks are national treasures, attracting millions of visitors from all over the country and all over the world. They’re scenic, inspirational, and a living example of conservation on a broad scale. Increasingly, though, the time the average park-goer actually spends in the park on a visit is dwindling to a span of only a few hours. While I agree that any time in a National Park is better than no time, my challenge to you, dear citizen, this National Park Week is to truly visit one of these wonderful locations so close by. Give a day to the National Parks. They’ll give you so much more in return, and together we can properly celebrate this week.