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Three national parks' most famous attractions are so well known that they've made it on to their state license plate: Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park, Old Faithful in (mostly) Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, and Yosemite Falls in California's Yosemite National Park.  All are jaw-dropping spectacularly beautiful.  Yet Delicate Arch is lucky to get a handful of visitors at any given moment, while Yosemite Falls and Old Faithful have been overrun.  

Yosemite Falls is one of the two most prominent landmarks in Yosemite Valley (the other is Half Dome).  To get to the base of Yosemite Falls, you park by the side of the road (the parking lot is now restricted to tour buses only), and you walk in a perfectly straight line about 200 yards.  You hear and see the falls as you approach.  As you get closer, it's hard not to hear the falls, as the roar can be loud enough to drown out ordinary conversation.  In all fairness, the NPS has tried to reroute the path to Yosemite Falls, so that you walk for half a mile along one side of the falls, but too many people stick with the old straight-line trail.

Old Faithful's crowd control is even worse.  The signs tell you of the next eruption, roughly every hour.  People start walking from the lodge a good thirty minutes beforehand to get a seat on one of the benches.  There's no need for a trail, because the geyser is within a few hundred feet of the parking lot, lodge, and visitor center.  Some days, Old Faithful offers more observations for sociologists than geologists.  

Delicate Arch is a little harder to approach.  For starters, there's no lodge directly across the road.  You park, you hike up a hill, you hike across open rock with only cairns, you hike up another hill that seems easy until you're halfway up and you're dripping with sweat and your legs are telling you it's steeper than it looked, and you still can't even see the d@mn arch!  The sign said the total hike was 1.5 miles, but that doesn't make any sense, because you've already come at least two miles and still no arch!  Finally, at long last, you see it, but it's got to be at least another three miles away!  And when you get there -- you can actually stand in the center of the arch -- it's breathtaking.

The conclusion is obvious: the best things deserve a bit of effort to get to them.  Walking to something that can't be seen from the road gives you more appreciation for it.  I'm not faulting the National Park Service for Yellowstone's easy car-touring accessibility, because the park was laid out in the very early 20th century.  However, a short walk -- a one-mile hike can be covered in 20 minutes at a slow 3 mph pace -- will get you to features that are at least as pretty but far, far less crowded.  You'll have earned the right to stop and drink in the view.  Both Yellowstone and Yosemite have excellent places for solitude, too -- so go do your obligatory Old Faithful viewing early in the morning, then get off the beaten path.  If you promise to hike there, I'll even tell you where to find the prettiest waterfall in all of Yosemite Park.  Hint: it's NOT in Yosemite Valley!

When I first thought of the Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies idea, Fitness Mondays was on hiatus.  However, anotherdemocrat has done a great job resurrecting it (and for an inspiring story of movement in the face of real adversity, check out fiddler crabby's I have Issues).  In the meantime, I like being outdoors, and we as Democrats must tend to our national parks, so this series' focus will be more on getting outside -- on foot, please! -- to explore national parks and other wild places of the earth.  If you want to contribute a diary, email me.  And if you want to know what happens to Yosemite Falls in winter:  title=
it becomes a Rorschach inkblot!

Originally posted to indigoblueskies on Tue Mar 24, 2009 at 05:13 PM PDT.

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