Sixty years ago, my parents introduced me to the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. It runs north into Virginia—469 miles from end to end: a two-lane highway punctuated by overlooks, campgrounds, and creeks. Along the way are famous places, like Biltmore and Monticello
In these six decades since, I’ve seen so much more of these spacious skies and amber waves of grain. Like Gettysburg: one hundred fifty-six years ago today (July 3), General Meade turned away Picket’s charge. A visit to that incomparable battlefield in central Pennsylvania is worth a trip across the country.
I’ve walked the city blocks of Philadelphia and Boston and read every historical marker I could find—of patriots, and presidents, and preachers—including the one, now obscurely affixed to a modern CVS pharmacy, that notes the place where, in 1855, the famous Dwight L. Moody was converted. Everywhere I go, including national parks, people ask me about him.
The eastern half of the country is peppered with battlefields, buildings, yes, and large city parks, like Central Park in New York City and Cherokee Park in Louisville. And waterfronts, like Baltimore and Chicago.
It took President Theodore Roosevelt to launch the National Park movement, in 1916. The first park was Yellowstone, mostly in Wyoming; and I spent three nights there on a thirteen-week, 10,401-mile ride around the country in 2006. The thing I remember most is the elk herd that gathered around the chapel and watched with us as an old bull defend his status against the young bull.
On the way to Yellowstone, we traveled the Laura Ingles Wilder Highway, studied Mount Rushmore, and stomped all over the Little Big Horn Battlefield. Afterwards we spent a week at the base of Glacier National Park and drove down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. Victoria, Hawaii, and Tahoe followed, but nothing prepared us for the Grand Canyon. It is truly grand, in every sense of that word.
I grew up in Kentucky with its Natural Bridge, Mammoth Cave, and the Kentucky Horse Park, graduated from high school in St. Louis within sight of the Gateway Arch, and served a church in Pittsburgh that gave us access to Fort Necessity, Homestead Steel Works, and Falling Water.
I’ve seen the Alamo, visited the Smithsonian, paddled through the Boundary Waters, and hiked the Eagle Trail until my knees gave out. I’ve climbed up the Washington Monument, crossed the Hoover Dam, stared at Niagara Falls, explored the Jesse James farm, and touched the Southern Most Point in Key West.
Few sites made as strong an impression on me as the Statue of Liberty when I saw it from high above, as we flew into New York City after being overseas for a year.
As a minister, I have especially treasured my time in the Old South Meetinghouse (Boston), the National Cathedral (Washington), Cane Ridge Meetinghouse (Kentucky), Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta), and the two Moody Churches (Chicago and Galveston!). Alas, I have never been to the Mormon Tabernacle, nor to Azusa Street (Los Angeles).
There are plenty of places yet to see: National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ellis Island and Ground Zero in New York, NASA Space Center in Houston, Sequoia National Park in California—actually, almost everything in California—and all fourteen presidential libraries.
These monuments, parks, forests, museums, and natural wonders are things that make America wonderful, memorable, and inspirational. They are for all of us, native and immigrant, young and old, progressive and conservative, including the man I passed on my hike to Linville Falls this week—his tee-shirt boldly proclaimed GOD GUNS TRUMP!
My grandson, Sam, traveled with me this week, up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We splashed in the creek, paddled in the lake, hiked to the falls, and talked to an etching artist at work on the porch of the spectacular summer home of Moses Cone, now part of the Blue Ridge National Park. Of course, we read books, played games, told stories, and ate ice cream and cake while listening to the rain.
We went to church, kicked the soccer ball, and shopped for books in the university town where, seven years ago this week, professor Howard Dorgan died 25 years after publishing one of the best books I ever read: Giving Glory to God in Appalachia.
This second experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway makes me thankful for the public leaders along this route who made it happen: governors, presidents, directors of public transportation, and surely legislators at the local and national level. Most are forgotten now, but here and there names pop up on forests, lakes, trails, and such; and I give thanks for whatever role they played in making this public land available to me and to my children, unto the third and fourth generation. Thanks be to God.
copyright Dwight A. Moody 2019