Today is the 11th day of the 11th month of the 21st century's 11th year.
It's 11-11-11. Eleven is supposed to be a lucky number. As Schoolhouse Rock described it back in the day, "Eleven will always be a friend of mine."
It's a good day to be upbeat and put out a list of 11 great examples of America's natural and historic heritage. These are places to put on a bucket list. And please, this list is subjective. Feel free to disagree and develop your own list of 11. There are plenty of examples to choose from.
1. Yosemite. It's where the national park idea germinated, when in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln granted Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California for "public use, resort, and recreation." Lincoln's action set a precedent for establishing national parks, which have been described as America's best idea. Yosemite's roaring waterfalls, towering sequoias, stunning mountain vistas, spectacular trail views, granite fastnesses, and quiet back country make up a dreamscape for inspiration. Upon awakening at a snow-covered campsite atop Glacier Point in 1903, Theodore Roosevelt exclaimed, "I never felt better in my life!" And so will you, after a trip to Yosemite.
2. Yellowstone. America's first national park was established in 1872 to protect its "curiosities and wonders." They include the geologicalbubbling mud pots, steaming hot springs, and bellowing geysers, a greater concentration of hydrothermal features than anywhere else in the world and signs of Yellowstone's explosive past as the caldera of a volcanic supereruption. They include the biologicalgrizzly bears,wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn, moose, cougars, lynx, bighorn sheep, a greater concentration of mammals than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. Curiosities and wonders, indeed.
3. The Grand Canyon. From rim to bottom, nature has left a geological memory album stretching back 2 billion years, in the form of nearly 40 rock layers exposed by the Colorado River's remorseless carving of the great chasm. From top to bottom, the ecological zones shift dramatically, from lowland desert scrub to high-elevation spruce-fir forest. Theodore Roosevelt said at the canyon's rim in 1903, "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been work on it and man can only mar it
Keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you." Good thing we listened.
4. The Everglades. Florida's great River of Grass is not what it used to be, but as a spot of subtropical wilderness, there is no place in America like it. The Everglades is a rich array of ecological zones, from hardwood hammocks to freshwater sloughs to mangrove habitats. Birds and other critters abound. Deep in the Everglades' Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness, the largest such preserve east of the Rockies, visitors can see Florida as it used to be, when the first Americans and early explorers wandered through a place where land and water seem as one.
5. The Smokies. If biological diversity is what you treasure most about protected lands, then Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the place for you. In the temperate latitudes, there is no place else on Earth that matches the Smokies in plant and animal variety. At least 17,000 species have been catalogued, and there could be as many as 80,000. One of those thousands of species is Photinus carolinus, a type of firefly whose individuals synchronize their lighting displays during nighttime gatherings in mid-June. It's nature's flash mob, and it's the best show around.
6. The Adirondacks. Here, in the mountains, forests, and blue lakes of upstate New York, is where the notion that nature's resources are inexhaustible ran into reality. Here, in the Adirondacks, is where the discipline of setting a boundary to rampant consumption was set. New Yorkers call that boundary the Blue Line, which encloses the Forest Preserve that under the state's constitution must remain "forever wild." In a 1957 talk, Wilderness Act visionary and author Howard Zahniser said the Andirondacks was where "wilderness preservation began."
7. Grasslands. Grasslands are not landscape exclamation points like mountains. They don't grab your senses and shake them like wild rivers. They give way as you step through them. Yet wild grasslands have an important place in our history. The American savannah supported people of the plains for many generations, when waves of bison meandered across the prairies. Their far horizons drew pioneers forward. When abuse brought forth the Dust Bowl, grasslands taught us a hard lesson that stewardship is a necessity, not a frill. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and the Buffalo Gap National Grassland are among the few remaining wild grasslands where one can reflect on those lessons.
8. Great Waters. America's coasts are touched by tropical seas and polar seas. EstuariesChesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and San Francisco Bay, among othersare mixing zones where vital natural cycles play out. Rivers have American stories to tellthe Hudson, Potomac, Mississippi, Missouri, Colorado, Columbia, and many more. Lakes nourish economies and reflect irresistible beautythe Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe. Great waters are arbiters of the land and shapers of destiny.
9. Great Land. Alaska is the land of last chances. One of those last chances is conservation on a big scale. It's still possible we will screw this upwitness relentless campaigns to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. So far, however, the achievements of the Alaska Lands Act, the largest land protection measure in U.S. history, are holding. The Great Land's great lands give new meaning to superlativesbig trees in the Tongass National Forest, big mountains in Denali National Park and Preserve, big ice in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Big, but vulnerable if we don't watch our step.
10. Forges of Freedom. America was born in a rebellion for freedom and was reborn in violence to wipe out a stain on that freedom. Many fine books and films have told those stories, but standing on the ground where the events happened impress their meanings into our memories. Go see the battlefields: Boston and Saratoga, Gettysburg and Appomattox. Take in "Freedom's Fortress" at Fort Monroe, our newest national monument. Travel the Underground Railroadthere are stops from Maine to Coloradoand imagine the grim odds enslaved people overcame to emancipate themselves.
11. Memorials on the Mall. The recently dedicated memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. is the newest creation of stone and metal on Washington, DC's National Mall, where a powerful sense of America's story can be experienced in one day. Visit the Lincoln Memorial and watch how your fellow citizens ponder the hopeful and demanding words of the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address. Walk through the World War II Memorial and respect the frail, aging veterans as they reflect on long-ago sacrifices at places like Anzio, Iwo Jima, Lone Tree Hill, and Omaha Beach. At the National Mall's memorials, the things that divide us recede and the collective memories we share bring us together.
There you have it, eleven for 11-11-11, and for many more days to come.
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