As a kid growing up in the suburbs east of San Francisco, I was fortunate nature played such a prominent role in my upbringing. The mighty Pacific Ocean; the towering redwoods of Muir Woods; the rolling hills of Napa and Sonoma valleys; the wilds of the Santa Cruz mountains—all were a short drive from my childhood home. If my family ventured a little farther out, we could explore the Sierra Nevada foothills (where my brother and I often came upon manmade indentations in rocks that the Native Americans used for grinding grains). A slightly longer drive brought us to majestic Lake Tahoe, the backdrop to so many postcard-worthy photos—in both winter and summer.

But one location still holds a mythical place in my childhood memories: Yosemite National Park. We didn’t go there often—it was a three-and-a-half hour drive from our house in Walnut Creek—but anyone who’s seen the majesty of El Capitan and Half Dome from Inspiration Point can understand how Yosemite Valley would have a lasting impact on a young mind. Indeed, Yosemite became a jumping-off point for my love of the outdoors—my first backpacking trip, after my sophomore year of college, took me through the rugged alpine topography near Tuolumne Meadows. Several years later, my dad, brother, and I trekked through the wilderness north and east of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. These two trips, along with the many shorter visits my family made to Yosemite Valley through the years, are the source of some of my fondest recollections.

I was reminded of these excursions as we were putting together this issue’s “Inside Rocky” (page 60). In Colorado, we are surrounded by such rich, natural beauty, it’s easy to take it all for granted. That is perhaps most true for Rocky Mountain National Park, a wild jewel that sits just 90 minutes or so from downtown Denver. For every Front Ranger who will regale you with tales of hikes, picnics, and elk sightings in Rocky, you’ll meet someone who hasn’t been. (Amazingly, only 30 to 40 percent of summer visitors are Centennial State residents.) And to my knowledge, this issue is the first in the 21-year history of 5280 that’s included a comprehensive guide to the park.

The timing of this feature is fortuitous because 2013 was such an eventful year for Rocky. Last fall’s devastating floods remade the landscape, and while much has been repaired, other changes to the geography will go untouched, and some damage to backcountry trails and camps is yet to be discovered. In other words, it’s a perfect time to go—not least of all because your entry fees will help with any reconstruction that still needs to happen. My wife and I have already made plans to take our two young sons for the first time this summer; they’re finally old enough to appreciate the awe only a national park can inspire. My hope is that seeing Longs Peak or Andrews Glacier or Dream Lake will encourage the same love of nature in them that Yosemite inspired in me so many years ago.

This article was originally published in 5280 June 2014.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke