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One evening last spring, Ann and I ran into a friendly National Geographic photographer while waltzing along the boardwalk that follows the Huangpujiang River in Shanghai. He gave me pointers on how to better capture the brilliant Shanghai lights, and we learned that this guy had been all over the world. He talked about New Zealand, Nepal, Siberia, Patagonia, and points beyond. He knew the world well. I was captured by his inspiring stories and descriptions of the places he’d been. He gave us more traveling beta than we could absorb. Eventually, I ran out of questions, and he threw one at me.
“Do you know what the most beautiful country in the world is?”
I thought it must be New Zealand or Nepal. My mind wandered around the globe thinking about all of “The Places I’ll Go” that I categorized on Pinterest. His reply caught me way off guard.
“America! It’s by far the most pristine and extraordinary country in the world. The US National Parks are the best that there are.”
I was taken back. I mean, I love America, but had I taken for granted that my own backyard might be the best? Maybe. Ever since we parted ways with that photographer I’ve been thinking about that conversation.
Ann and I just got back from a road trip last summer through Rapid City, SD to Yosemite, CA and back. It was an awesome adventure full of great memories. But in many respects, road trips are also just about time: time spent in the car, navigating, enjoying the scenery, and talking about our lives. I love driving fast with the windows down listening to our favorite songs. It feels so good to lean over and kiss Ann and feel a wisp of her hair brush my face. Road trips make great love stories. We have had so many long, uninterrupted chats. Sometimes we start laughing so hard I have to pull over. We also often read books to each other. On this last trip, Ann and I read two different books. We read Wild Swans, a powerful memoir about communist China, and Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games series. These books gave us a lot to talk about and we highly recommend them.
Throughout the trip, I kept thinking of the photographer’s words, and though I have not been everywhere he had, I came to agree in my spirit. All along that winding road I tried not to take a moment for granted. America is spectacular. God must have had Ann’s and my road trips in mind when he laid down the continent. It’s as if He designed it for wild lovers like us. We love the mountains, we love the deserts, we love the trees, and most of all we love the National Parks. There are only about a dozen of the 58 that either of us haven’t yet seen. Each is so vast that you could spend a lifetime exploring. My favorite National Park is Zion and Ann’s favorite National Park is, of course, Yosemite. We find solace and refuge in them. We also find wilderness, danger, and adventure. We rediscover our own hearts and hear from God most clearly in those wild spaces. It can even be hard to leave sometimes, but they always seem to beckon us back. There truly is no land more beautiful.
If you have never packed up everything and set off for the sunset, now is your chance. Start planning today.