The U.S. National Parks Service and the National Parks Foundation join together each year to provide a week of special activities and events aimed at helping people across the country enjoy the beauty, history, and culture present in the parks. In addition to social aspects of this week — as people team up for conversation projects and go on hiking and biking adventures — it's worth taking time to cultivate fresh reverence for the gift of protected wilderness areas.

As of this writing, the United States has 61 area protected as national parks; the most visited ones are Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee and The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. More than 50 million acres are protected in these parks. The terrain they cover is extraordinarily varied: geysers, canyons, sand dunes, glaciers, tropical rainforest, grasslands, alpine lakes, a fossilized coral reef, hot springs, fjords, caves, volcanoes, cliff dwellings ... and the list goes on!

Check out the activities of National Parks Week and see how you can participate. Even if you live far from a national park, be sure to let nature speak to you wherever you can find her revitalizing charms. As Terry Tempest Williams writes in The Hour of Land, "I return to the wilderness to remember what I have forgotten, that the world can be wholesome and beautiful, that the harmony and integrity of ecosystems at peace is a mirror to what we have lost."

To Name This Day . . .


John Muir (1838-1914), founder of the Sierra Club, was a strong advocate of the preservation of wilderness through a national parks system. Choose one of the following quotes by him to inspire your appreciation of nature this week:

"The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried up at once; a shower is always falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls."

"All wilderness seems to be of tricks and plans to drive and draw us up into God's light."

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, I was really going in."

About Yosemite Valley: “Nowhere will you see the majestic operations of nature more clearly revealed beside the frailest, most gentle and peaceful things. Nearly all the park is a profound solitude. Yet it is full of charming company, full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and eager enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons on life, mountain-building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful of humanity.”

Spiritual Practice

In The Hour of Land, Terry Tempest Williams writes:

"When we enter places of grandeur and sites of suffering, and inhabit landscapes of historical import and ecological splendor, we stand on the periphery of awe. How did this happen? Who were the witnesses? And what are we seeing now? The American landscape has a voice, many voices. It becomes us. Our national parks are a burning bush of identities.

"This deeper understanding of our individual and shared histories, both human and wild, allows us to touch and be touched by what has occurred in the past and what remains as we contemplate what we can create together by listening to one another with an open heart.

"Cesar Chavez said, 'After thirty years of organizing poor people, I have become convinced that the two greatest aspirations of humankind are equality and participation.' If we can learn to listen to the land, we can learn to listen to each other. This is the beginning of ceremony.

" 'It is time to weep and sing,' wrote W. H. Auden. At a low ebb of hope, I asked my friend Doug Peacock how he staves off despair — this is the man who kept a map of Yellowstone in the back pocket of his fatigues throughout the war and would unfold it at night to keep insanity at bay.

" 'Insulate yourself with friends and seek out wild places,' he said."

Set aside time this week to walk in a wild place (even a city park counts) with a friend or friends. If you live near a national park, go there; usually during this week, park fees are waived. As you allow yourself to be touched by the living beauty all around you, talk together about how to ensure the land's well-being for future generations. Then go home and follow through on one idea that arose during your discussion, whether that's signing up to volunteer at a park, making a donation, or committing to contact your representatives in Congress about an ecological issue of concern to you.

Or Practice Visio Divina with U.S. National Parks and Monuments. Visit a gallery of breathtaking scenery of National Parks and Monuments from Acadia to Zion, and practice the art of close observation that yields insights and inspiration (instructions included).


Take a virtual retreat in 13 of the most beloved U.S. National Parks: