PARK YOUR­SELF RIGHT HERE

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - TOUR GUIDE US NATIONAL PARKS - CE­LESTE MITCHELL

Trav­ellers visit Europe to see cas­tles, cathe­drals and mon­u­ments with in­cred­i­ble his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance. But Amer­ica is a rel­a­tively new coun­try, so the places we’re able to pro­tect are those that are ac­tu­ally un­touched by hu­mans,” Stir­ling Weir says. As a chief ex­pe­ri­ence of­fi­cer (CEO) – as they’re called at ad­ven­ture travel com­pany G Ad­ven­tures – for the past three years, Stir­ling says Amer­ica’s na­tional parks are, “nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring amuse­ment parks that will leave your soul feel­ing ful­filled with a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the planet, and your place within it”.

These are his tips for ex­plor­ing them.

BEST WILDLIFE EN­COUN­TERS

Yosemite is well known for bears, the Grand Canyon is a great spot to see elk, but the un­equiv­o­cally best place for wildlife view­ing is in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park.

Elk and deer have vast mead­ows, rivers and streams to feed in and you’re likely to get stuck in a traf­fic jam as Amer­i­can bi­son cross the road.

Griz­zly and black bears feast on berries and fish, while beavers cre­ate dams that form es­tu­ar­ies for fish that, in turn, at­tract hawks, os­prey and the oc­ca­sional bald ea­gle. And that’s just the tip of the ice­berg!

MOST BEAU­TI­FUL PARK YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

The most fa­mous parks – Yel­low­stone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon – are fa­mous for a rea­son. And they’re cer­tainly no less im­pres­sive be­cause you’ve heard their names be­fore.

But the United States is full of gems that can be as­tound­ing for the sheer fact you haven’t heard of them.

On my first tour ever, while I was driv­ing through Grand Te­ton Na­tional Park in Wy­oming, we turned a cor­ner, the trees cleared, and the Te­ton moun­tain range was re­vealed.

The snow-capped peaks tow­ered above a glis­ten­ing glacial lake like a scene from a Pe­ter Jack­son movie, and I re­mem­ber be­ing over­come with a sense of awe. I had no idea that it was go­ing to be that beau­ti­ful.

THE HOTTEST EX­PE­RI­ENCE

I love driv­ing peo­ple through Death Val­ley, just out­side Las Ve­gas. Mid-sum­mer tem­per­a­tures of­ten reach well over 45C, but if you can suf­fer through it you’ll be re­warded with some of the most out­stand­ing desert scenery in the South­west.

The rocky moun­tain walls of the val­ley are swirled with colour, and the vast salt flats draw out your per­spec­tive to leave you won­der­ing just how large this park ac­tu­ally is.

GET­TING THE MOST FROM YOUR VISIT

Ev­ery park has a bevy of rangers, staff and park lovers who are burst­ing with knowl­edge.

They’re the ones who can di­rect you to the hid­den spots you might not be able to find on your own. And of course, there’s al­ways your trusty tour guide.

I’ll usu­ally be able to as­sess what each per­son wants from their park ex­pe­ri­ence, that way I can di­rect a group to the bike ren­tals, an­other group to the vis­i­tor cen­tre, and a third group to the eight-hour, grit-and-grind, kick-your-butt hike that makes them feel like they’ve con­quered the world.

WHEN YOU NEED A RE­AL­ITY CHECK

I al­ways love when peo­ple put away their phones and just take a mo­ment, how­ever brief, to ap­pre­ci­ate their sur­round­ings. I have a rule when I show my trav­ellers the Grand Canyon for the first time: no phones, no pho­tos un­til I say so. For the first few min­utes my pas­sen­gers just have to marvel in peace.

I watch as they wan­der off, find­ing a quiet rock to sit on. I see the seren­ity pass over their face as they in­vari­ably for­get about my “rule”, and I know I’ve done my job.

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