Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Of 56 national parks in the U.S., I have been to 14. My much younger husband is almost even with me at 13.

We figured this out at the beginning of the summer, on a road trip to central Virginia. While Michael drove, I discovered the national parks page at the front of our new 2010 road atlas. Ever competitive, and frequently restless during a road trip, I began counting the parks we’d been to. We’ve been together almost 20 years, so most of them have been joint trips: to Acadia in Maine, Hot Springs in Arkansas, Glacier in Montana. Our first national park together was Shenandoah.

But in my longer-than-his life, I’ve also been to the Everglades and Mount Rainier and Minnesota’s Voyageurs Park without him. He’s gawked at the redwoods in California and seen the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde without me. At the start of every one of those trips and at other historical sites, we paid our entry fee – we’ve never managed to make it on those free-admission weekends.

But no more. Last month we brought some visitors from Arkansas to see Fort McHenry, the national monument on a peninsula in the Baltimore harbor from which the flag flew during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem. The entrance fee was $7 and we all dug into our wallets.

Politely, the ranger who would receive our money asked whether any of us had an America the Beautiful senior pass, or whether we would like to purchase one for $10. Of course, I was the only one who met the age requirement, and I was way out ahead of my companions in their 40s and 30s. Such a deal for them! If I confessed my age, all three could also get in free. So at this battlefield where bombs had burst in air, I had my own internal war.

It was a war we all won when I pulled out my driver’s license to confirm my age. Buying the $10 pass means free admission for the rest of my life — for me and any three people with me — to any national park or monument or recreation site. But it also means another admission: I’m 62, drat it.

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