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The Best of America's National Parks

The 2004 Proud Partner 'Best of the Parks' Picks are:

Best Sunrise

Catch the first sunrise in the continental U.S. Acadia National Park. Maine. Consider yourself an early riser? Then get the ultimate "morning-person" experience by being the first in the continental United States to see the sun come up over the horizon from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Check the local paper for the exact time, and remember not to hit the "snooze" button when your alarm clock goes off.

Best Photo Op

Learn to take pictures like a pro ... with a pro! Yellowstone National Park. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming. We can't all be Ansel Adams, but a lot of us could be much happier with our pictures if we got some pointers from a pro. Take this free morning walk in one of America's most photogenic locales with world-renowned nature photographer Neil Montanus -- the Ansel Adams of his generation -- and never take another picture of your thumb (accidentally, anyways).

Best Beach

A whole new way to think of "Beaches Gone Wild." Olympic National Park. Washington. Forget the surfboard and cabana boys for an afternoon and see the Pacific Coast like it was 10,000 years ago along 65 miles of undisturbed, wild shoreline. Breathtaking seastacks, captivating ocean wildlife, and 100-foot trees tossed about like matchsticks by the surf make this one day at the beach you'll never forget.

Best Watering Hole (Human Division)

Kicking back on the shores of Jackson Lake. Grand Teton National Park. Wyoming. For some people, it's impossible to see a stunning mountain range like the Grand Tetons and not want to spend a lifetime exploring it on foot. No showers. No toilets. And nothing to eat but a handful of trail mix and the occasional sip of water. For the rest of us, such trips are best experienced in the mind's eye, viewing the incomparable scenery from the comfort of an Adirondack chair with a beverage of choice in hand. If your tastes tend toward the latter, Jackson Lake Lodge, with its sprawling patio and miles of unobstructed views, might just be the perfect spot to quench your personal thirst for adventure.

Best Park Date for Someone Who Hates to Camp

It's not all about the poison ivy and the chiggers. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Virginia. When you think of your National Parks, do you think of Opera? Ballet? Rock concerts? Riverdance? Then you've never been to Wolf Trap, the legacy of a thoughtful patron who chose to preserve a slice of natural and cultural beauty in the burgeoning suburbs of the nation's Capital. Enjoy top- notch outdoor summer entertainment by some of the hottest acts on tour, and discover that there truly is something for everyone in America's National Parks.

Best Access to Breathtaking Beauty

Wheelchair accessible hiking in the heart of the country's most rugged mountain range. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado. The Bear Lake wheelchair accessible trail, made possible through an innovative public-private partnership, is a sterling example of the many projects being undertaken to ensure that the beauty of the Parks -- like the spectacular summer wildflowers, elk, mule deer, moose and other wildlife that grace the area -- are within reach of all visitors.

Best Proud Moment

Walking in the footsteps of giants. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Alabama. Tuskegee Institute, a small black college in Alabama, was selected to host the "military experiment" to train African American pilots and support staff during the height of World War II. Between 1942 and 1946, 15,000 brave and eager men and women came through Tuskegee and served their country with honor and distinction. To trace their steps is to be reminded that perhaps the one thing above all others that makes America a great nation is the quality of the people willing to risk their lives to defend her.

Best Fossil-Watching

And the best look at dinosaurs you're likely to come by. Carlsbad Caverns National Park. New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns sits within a limestone mountain range recognized as the best-preserved Permian- aged fossil reef in the world. The ocean fossils here yield a detailed picture of life along a coastline of a shallow inland sea some 240 to 280 million years ago. Another prehistoric picture emerges in the award-winning visitor center film, "When Dinosaurs Roamed America." This captivating and sophisticated computer-animated movie takes you as close as you can get to our reptilian ancestors without a ticket to Jurassic Park.

Best Stargazing

Enjoying the simple pleasure of the dark night sky. Glacier National Park. Montana. Take one of Glacier's restored signature Red Buses to the head of Highline Trail and spend the day hiking to the historic Granite Park Chalet. After a well-earned dinner and before you turn in, enjoy an all-too-rare experience in much of the U.S.: The simple pleasure of stargazing in the utter darkness of wilderness. Once the sun sets, it's just you, the stars and your rekindled sense of wonder.

Best "Goosebump" Experience

A day that shaped the country. Antietam National Battlefield. Maryland. By the time the last shot was fired on September 17, 1862 at Antietam, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing. The battle marked the bloody end of Robert E. Lee's first excursion north, and led to President Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. An undisturbed historic battlefield site since 1890, you can spend the night in the converted farmhouse that served as Gen. James Longstreet's headquarters, and step out the front door to see the battlefield exactly as he did, on what would be the bloodiest day in American history, and a day that like few others shaped the country we know today.

Chairman's Choice Bonus Pick

Best Place to Get Married

If the Vegas thing just isn't for you. Yosemite National Park. California. Located within the Park, the Yosemite Chapel has been a spiritual and community center for generations. People from around the world come to the Yosemite Chapel to commemorate and celebrate special events in their lives. So if the Elk's Lodge is booked and a drive-by marriage just seems to lack romance, consider making the most memorable day of your life one your guests will never forget, either.

"Our National Parks are so much more than spectacular hiking and camping," said Jim Maddy, president of National Park Foundation. "They're about contemplation and solitude, about excitement and exhilaration, about the past and the future. And perhaps above all, they're about appreciating the foresight of previous generations to set these special areas aside for the next."

About this list: the 2004 Proud Partner 'Best of the Parks' Picks was developed by a panel of Park experts and long-time visitors brought together by NPF. It was chaired by John Reynolds, 61, a retired 39-year veteran of the National Park Service who has spent most of his life in the Parks. A former Superintendent, Deputy Director, Regional Director and Park ranger, Reynolds was literally born in Yellowstone and was married in Yosemite, where the bride was born and his son is now a third-generation ranger.

The National Park Foundation is the Congressionally-chartered nonprofit partner of America's National Parks. Created by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation strengthens the enduring connection between the American people and their National Parks by raising private funds, making strategic grants, creating innovative partnerships and increasing public awareness. Over the past six years NPF has raised $98 million in grants and program support for National Parks across the country. For more information, visit http://www.nationalparks.org. The Proud Partners of America's National Parks are American Airlines, Discovery Communications, Inc., Ford Motor Company, Kodak and TIME magazine.


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