Obama Visits the National Parks

Lynda Bird Johnson packs her camp trailer prior to her western trip.

From the December, 1965 issue of National Geographic Magazine, by David Boyer/NGS.

This weekend President Obama and the First Family are heading to Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks, in part to promote this summer’s final fee-free weekend at over 100 parks that usually charge admission. With his visit, the President hopes to continue the tradition of Presidential visits to the parks, and encourage the preservation and conservation of our natural landscapes. If this trip sparks anything like the mass crowds now flocking to the Obama-visited burger joints here in Washington, D.C., the President will have done his job.

This will be the first visit to either park for Obama’s daughters Sasha and Malia, but not the first time a First Daughter has made such a trip. In 1965, Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of LBJ, caravanned across America’s interior taking National Geographic Magazine along for the ride. Here’s an excerpt from the article, “I See America First: Diary of the President’s Daughter,” that we dug out of our archives.

Our Ancestors saw the West in a covered wagon. I saw it in the covered wagon’s successor, the travel trailer.

In late June we rolled away from the Grand Canyon with the keepsake memory of a sunrise Sunday worship service beside its awesome rim. For two days we lingered in Monument Valley, an American Stonehenge sculptured by nature. We climbed amid the cliffside homes of ancient Indians at Wetherill Mesa, celebrated Fourth of July with a parade at Laramie, and in Jackson Hole floated down the Snake River on a raft.

We applauded Old Faithful at Yellowstone, parked for the night among tombstones where Custer, his men of the 7th Cavalry, and his stubborn foes–the Sioux and Cheyenne–died at the Little Bighorn River, and paused in homage at Theodore Roosevelt’s crude cabin in his memorial park. We waded the Mississippi River where it trickles out of Lake Itasca, and canoed on the inviting waters of northern Minnesota.

Though our trailers covered 2,900 miles–about the distance from Paris to Jerusalem–we had hardly begun to see America. To see it all would take a lifetime.

Lights from Lynda Bird’s camping trailers and campfire glow in the darkened Monument Vally, Arizona. From the December, 1965 issue of National Geographic Magazine, by William Albert Allard.

For Sasha and Malia, and for all families making their way to the national parks this year, here are some travel tips to make your visit as successful as Lynda’s:

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  • The fee-free weekend waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Not included, unless otherwise stated, are fees for reservations, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties.
  • If you decide to stay overnight in the park, you may incur daily site fees at some campgrounds, but not all, and free doesn’t mean reservations aren’t required. Not all campgrounds take reservations but for the ones that do, all booking must go through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) by calling + 1 877 444 6777. Be quick; spots fill fast. Track your reservations online.
  • Perhaps the number one safety tip for all parks is “Keep Wildlife Wild.” The NPS advises travelers to maintain a smart distance from wild animals, which will protect not only your safety but the safety of the wildlife as well. Don’t feed the animals, keep your distance from them, keep your pets in control, and seek medical attention immediately if you suffer from a bite or other injury.

For more information visit Traveler’s online “Know Before You Go,” guide to the National Parks. That’s where you can also find our “Essential Guide to Ten American Classic” national parks, including Yellowstone.

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