Bless the National Parks System

badlands_national_park_south_dakota

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, S.D. — Many of us gripe about some aspect — or perhaps all aspects — of the federal government.

I intend here to sing the praises of the National Parks System.

We arrived at Badlands National Park packing what’s called a “Senior Pass.” What does it do? It gets us into any federal park site for free. We’ve had these passes for some time now, but it’s a serious blast being able to wave one of them at a park ranger, enabling us to enter one of these parks without paying a fee.

We came to Badlands to see a site we’d seen more than 40 years earlier. We blasted through the region in the summer of 1973 with my wife’s mother and stepfather, and our then six-month-old son.

It was hotter ‘n hell the day we came here then. It was in mid-July, after all.

We walked into the visitors center at the eastern end of the park. I told the ranger behind the counter that the park was “more beautiful than I remembered. That was more than 40 years ago.”

“Well, the park has eroded one inch per year since your last visit,” he said. I did the math quickly in my head and responded, “So, we saw 43 inches less of it today than we did back then. Is that about right?”

Yep, he said. “How long will it be before the park disappears?” I asked. He answered, “It will take about 50 million years for that to happen,” he said. “Fine, then I’ll see you on the other side when that happens and we’ll talk about how beautiful the Badlands used to look,” I said.

Full-time retirement’s arrival will allow us to partake even more of these sights on our journey through North America. If only the Canadians would allow us into their national parks for free.

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