American’s National Park Service will be turning one hundred years old in just a few weeks. Because I love our national parks so much I cannot let this occasion pass without offering the NPS my congratulations and best wishes. Since taking up nature photography twenty-four years ago I’ve been blessed to visit most of our national parks. I’ve also visited scores of other national park units such as national recreation areas, national monuments, national rivers and seashores, etc. Each of them has had an impact on my life one way or another. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for our national parks.
I was introduced to our national parks as a small child when my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today I visit them as often as I can. Just two days ago I was able to pay a return visit to Mammoth Cave National Park. I keep going back because I benefit so much from them. Our national parks are incredible repositories of natural beauty that move my soul. They are places where I often connect to God. In fact, when I think of some of the parks I’ve visited I think not just of the scenery or wildlife but of the spiritual connections I made there. Let me give you some examples.
When I think of Denali National Park I remember “the peace of God that passes all understanding.” I have felt a peace there I’ve not quite experienced elsewhere. When I think of Grand Teton National Park I recall how important humility is in the spiritual life. Standing before that giant mountain wall I always feel small and humbled. When I think of Yosemite National Park I think of worship. John Muir referred to those majestic Sierra mountains as his “temples” and “cathedrals” and they became that for me as well. I can hardly imagine walking through Yosemite Valley and not singing the “Doxology” or “How Great Thou Art.” When I think of Yellowstone National Park I find myself reflecting on the mystery of God. Yellowstone is such a mysterious and magical place. As with God, there is no comprehending all its wonders. And when I think of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I associate it with love. There is a wonderful and abundant diversity of life in this park that is so dear to my heart. That diversity symbolizes for me the generosity and goodness of God and it serves as yet one more reminder of the divine love that is the source of all that is good.
I could go on making spiritual connections with the many different parks I have visited and photographed. They are all special and they are all important. We are incredibly blessed to have these national parks and we should, by no means, take them for granted. I would encourage you in this centennial year of the National Park Service to give them all the support you can. Visit them as often. Work to preserve and protect them. Our national parks are far more than just beautiful and ecologically diverse places, they are special places where God resides and where God can be experienced in some marvelous ways.
(I took the top image at Yellowstone NP, the middle one at Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the bottom one at Yosemite National Park.)