Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fresh Air

During my recent trip to Georgia, I spent a treasured hour sitting on the porch of a cabin in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was surrounded by the tree canopy, listening to the morning chorus of birds, breathing the fresh air. Even in that brief time, I could feel the pressures of city life begin to ebb.

This week, two Travel Arts Syndicate contributors, Kurt Repanshek and Sophia Dembling, write about where, how and why to spend time outdoors this summer. Kurt, who is an expert on U.S. national parks, writes about how to visit them while avoiding summer crowds.

"The national park system offers a gorgeous lake shore with a chain of islands to explore," he says, "a secluded corner of North Carolina steeped in Appalachian lore, an overlooked gem that anchors Nevada’s border with Utah, a geologic wonder where you can escape southern Utah’s convection-oven conditions and even some oceanfront real estate to pitch your tent on."

Sophia, in her monthly column, "Wandering Mind," has this to say:

I feel sorry for people who treat the great outdoors as a drive-through experience. I’ve been stuck in traffic jams in Yellowstone park and while I’m sure some of those people eventually parked to hike, judging by the emptiness of the trails my friend and I explored, most people were evidently driving from site to site to ogle the natural wonders and then flee back to their cars.

Such a crime.

Why not park and hike just a little bit? It takes a lot of work to get to genuine wilderness and certainly a stop with the mobs at Old Faithful is de rigeur, but you’re nuts not to spend some time out on your own two hiking boots where you can hear the silence, see tiny wildflowers and rush-lined ponds, birds and tortoises and vistas unobstructed by camping trailers. If hiking sounds hard, think of it as walking. All you need are two legs, good shoes and a bottle of water. Most parks have short, hard-to-get-lost-on trails that offer an inspiring taste of the experience.

Sophia's column appears regularly in the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News. Kurt's national parks story may run in a paper near you.