School is Out, National Parks are In

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The Quintessential American Summer

What I Did On My Summer Vacation. Chances are, at some point in elementary school you wrote this essay.

For kids all across the country, summer marks the season of longer days, later bedtimes and a general sense of freedom. Chances are also good that at some point beyond elementary school you sang along – loudly – to Alice Cooper’s ode to no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. Even the idea of summer vacation is enough to get us all pumped up.

As a grown-up – or maybe just a kid living in an adult’s body – summer vacation isn’t quite as black and white as it was when we were young. Unless of course you’re one of those teachers prone to dirty looks. Even for those of us who are hardcore adulting, hopefully summer means a little break from the regular routine.

The Rush To Summer

Technically the first day of summer begins on the June solstice, the longest day of the year. But America’s summer customs start earlier, as soon as Memorial Day arrives. Much to some people’s chagrin, this somber holiday has also become the unofficial kick-off of summer.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was started in 1868 by General John A. Logan to commemorate the over 620,000 Civil War soldiers killed in battle. He asked that Americans lay flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Decoration Day was first celebrated every May 30th. Some historians think this May date was chosen so that flowers would be in bloom and readily available across the country. Others believe Logan chose the 30th because it was one of the only days that didn’t share an anniversary with a Civil War battle. In 1971, Memorial Day became an official American holiday celebrated each year on the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day & Labor Day:
The Bookends of Vacation Season

Our first thoughts should be with fallen soldiers each Memorial Day. But it’s become a part of American culture that the last Monday in May is a seasonal turning point, too. It marks a time when wearing white is socially acceptable, offices switch to summer Fridays, and seaside clam shacks and seafood joints reopen for the season.

The start of a school’s summer vacation differs depending on which of the 50 States you call home. In warmer climates, it’s normal for summer vacation to start in May. Northern states typically break for summer in June. No matter where you live or when summer starts, you can bet kids everywhere look forward to this essay-worthy season. It’s a pretty safe guess that they’re not so excited about Labor Day. After all, that holiday is, quite literally, about honoring everyone who punches the clock. How many kids – or adults for that matter – do you know who’d rather work than play?

A National Treasure: Parks Worth The Road Trip

What’s a more classic American vacation than visiting one of our National Parks? From the Brady Bunch to National Lampoon’s Vacation, a trip to the Grand Canyon is embedded into our collective vacation consciousness. And Grand Canyon National Park isn’t even the most popular park in the country!

Last year, over 331 MILLION people visited one of our 58 National Parks.

If the Grand Canyon isn’t on the top of the list, which park is? That honor goes to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which according to this National Geographic article “drew more than eleven million visitors last year—about twice the number of the second most popular park. ”Did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Salamander Capital of the World? There are 2,900 miles of streams, over 17,000 living species, and temperatures never hit more than 80 Degrees. If you love nature, that makes for a great vacation. It’s one of the most affordable trips you’ll take, too. The park is free – it never charges admission.

The second most popular park? Well, that is the Grand Canyon. Considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon – one of the largest canyons that exists – hosted 6.2 million people last year. It may be one of most heavily visited parks, but it’s also home to one of smallest, hard-to-get-to towns in the continental United States. The Havasupai Indian Reservation, population 208, is located in the canyon and is so remote that it still gets its mail delivered by pack mule.

Number three on the list belongs to Zion National Park. If you’re a thrill seeker, you’ll want to put this one on the top of your list. The 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs are world renowned for climbing and Angels Landing, a 2.2 mile hike, is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world.

There are Too Many National Treasures to List (But We’ll at Least Round Out the Top Ten)

  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Acadia National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Glacier National Park

From sea to shining sea, each one of these parks (and all the other 48) are worth putting on your list of must-see places.

All Gone To Look For America

Things become iconic for good reason, and packing up the car, hitting the open road and seeing just how majestically beautiful our country really is will always be a quintessential American tradition. After all, these are the moments that make up our memories. The added bonus of setting out to see America’s figurative back yard? A trip away makes us appreciate our literal back yard, too. Fireflies, ice-cream, the smell of sunscreen, games of freeze-tag in the neighborhood … these seemingly simple things bring a happy nostalgia for growing up in the U.S.A.

So how do you want your Summer of 2018 essay to read?