For those of us who love national parks, there is no picking one favorite, but if I had to do it, Olympic in Washington state would definitely be in the running. The park is just under a million acres: The highest part, Mount Olympus, rises to 7,980 feet above sea level; the lowest place is the shore of the Pacific Ocean. My last visit was during the rainiest season in years. Water thundered down from Mount Olympus, gushing through ravines, misting in overhead branches, slicking ten thousand shades of green with water. Each frond or blade or leaf had a glittering droplet forming, then falling. Rivers were clay-colored, carrying trunks of trees at a smashing pace toward the ocean. On every tree grew a world of ferns; between the ferns, mosses; on the mosses, families of minute flowering stems. Mushrooms in yellow and scarlet and zombie gray fanned out from the bright orange corpses of downed trees. Roots of the fallen tangled with the arms of the upright, all festooned with a riot of growing things.

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The cycle of life was spinning with such speed that even a short-lived beastie such as me could see birth, rise, death, decay and rebirth happening in each and every moment.

Life doesn't get any better than that, I don't think. Life, death, rebirth — that's the mystery, isn't it? That magnificent moment of connection, of realization that we are a part of something truly profound. If I were a dog, I'd have lain down and rolled in it. Well, actually, I did lie down and roll in it. No sense in waiting to be reborn as a dog to do the really fun stuff.

My adult life has been focused on the U.S. national parks — first as a ranger, then as a writer. I've published a series of mystery novels set in the parks. But my interest in them goes beyond the literary.

In a world that is becoming increasingly virtual, the parks remain places of visceral beauty. Places where we can remember that we are but a small part of the life on this planet and that it is a truly wonderful planet and the only one we've got.

National Park Bests:
Anniversary Quest
Birthplace of America
Ken Burns Family Tradition
Urban Wilderness
Native American Heritage
Rock Climbers Paradise