Backpacking and Camping in America’s National and State Parks

Download MP3   (Right-click or option-click the link.)

I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Millions of people in the United States like to spend their holidays enjoying nature. They carry everything they will need with them. Today we tell about this popular activity called backpacking.

We are high in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the state of North Carolina. It is very early in the morning. We have been walking in the mountains for almost one week. Each night we sleep in a small cloth shelter called a tent. We carry the tent, sleeping bags, clothes, food and water with us in our backpacks.

The air this morning is fresh and clear. It smells like green trees and wild flowers. Our surroundings are dark green. We have been deep in the forest for many kilometers. Little light reaches here. It is so thick with trees we cannot see the sky.

At last we come to a clear area. We can see the sky and the land around us. When we look across to other mountains it is easy to see why they were named the Blue Ridge Mountains. The early morning air in the distance looks like thick smoke. It makes the color of the mountains a deep ocean blue. This color is caused by the amount of water in the air. It is almost like fog. When the sun rises higher, some of the water in the air will be burned away. Then the mountains will slowly turn dark green.

It is beautiful here. We can see many kilometers down and across the valley floor. Two deer are nearby. They are eating grass. No hunting is permitted here. The deer are used to seeing people walk through this area, so they have little fear of humans. They watch us with their huge dark eyes. For several minutes we look at the deer and the deer look at us. Then, the large animals lose interest and slowly move away.

We have stopped to eat a late morning meal. A friend has begun to cook our food over a small fire. The smell of fresh coffee soon mixes with the smell of burning wood. The clear mountain air and our long walk this morning have made us extremely hungry.

We eat a meal of eggs, fruit and bread and drink some very good coffee. After eating, we wash the equipment in hot water and put it inside the large bags we carry on our backs. We put the fire out with water. We fill the small hole we dug for the fire with dirt. We carefully clean the area when we are done. When we leave, there is nothing to show that we have been there. We try very hard to leave the area as we found it -- the way nature made it.

Today we will try to walk at least thirty kilometers. It should not be difficult. The path here is not steep. We will spend two more days and nights high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. By then we will have eaten all the food we brought.

Then it will be time to leave the mountains. It will be difficult to re-enter the world of cars, roads, buildings, stores, computers, television and crowds of people.

We will take many things from the mountains when we leave. Memories of the great beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The joy of watching the beautiful deer early in the morning. And an increased respect for our natural world.

We have tried to describe what it is like to travel a path up high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area we visited is called the Blue Ridge Parkway. The United States government's National Park Service protects this beautiful area so that the public can always enjoy it. About eighteen million people visit the Blue Ridge Parkway each year. Most drive there in their cars. However, about two hundred thousand people sleep in the park for at least one night.

The National Park Service keeps records to show how many people visit all of the national parks. Each year about fourteen million people sleep in America's national parks for at least one night. About one million seven hundred thousand people visit what is called the "backcountry." The backcountry is far away from human activity. In some parks, vehicles are not permitted in the backcountry.

You often must walk for several days to get to the backcountry of some national parks. People who enjoy backpacking visit backcountry. They carry everything they will need for a day or two or perhaps a week or more.

Backpacking is a popular activity in the United States. Many different companies produce goods and equipment for people who enjoy living for a while in nature. Several companies sell special foods. Some of these foods have been produced using a method that removes the water. This method is called freeze-drying. These meals include different foods such as meat, vegetables and rice or perhaps a mixture of several foods.

Hot water is added to the dried material to replace the missing water. This produces a meal that is ready to eat. Backpackers use this method to carry food for two reasons. The food is easy to carry because it weighs a lot less without the water. And food that has been freeze-dried remains safe to eat for a long time.

Many companies produce special clothing for people who enjoy backpacking. Some companies make strong shoes made for walking and hiking. Others make small stoves for cooking food. Other companies make small lightweight cloth tents that campers can carry anywhere. A few companies sell equipment that makes water safe to drink. And a number of companies make the backpacks that campers use to carry all this equipment.

Each of these companies tries to make the best possible product that is very lightweight. A backpack filled with food, water and equipment needed for a week weighs about twenty kilograms. Many experienced backpackers carry far less and travel faster. Others take more equipment because they want more of the comforts of home.

Many state and national parks permit backpacking. In some parks you must pay a small amount of money for each day. Others cost nothing. Some national parks provide hundreds of kilometers of paths or trails to follow.

Mount Rainier National Park in the northwestern state of Washington is a good example of a park that provides many different trails. Some take only a day to follow. Others can take a week or more.

The oldest and perhaps the most famous backpacking trail in the United States is called the Appalachian Trail. It begins in the northeastern state of Maine and ends in the southern state of Georgia.

Those who follow the trail from beginning to end will walk or hike about three thousand five hundred kilometers. Some of the Appalachian Trail is easy. Some parts of it are extremely difficult. Myron Avery helped create the famous trail. He also was the first man to walk the whole trail. He did it in nineteen thirty-six.

Since then, more than eight thousand people have hiked all of the Appalachian Trail. Some did it all at one time. Others did parts of the trail each year for several years until they finished it. About three million people walk part of the trail each year.

People have come from all over the world to hike the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps one of the most unusual was a woman named Emma Gatewood from the state of Ohio. She walked all of the trail -- three times. She was almost seventy years old the last time she completed the trail.

The Appalachian Trail is easy to follow. Hundreds of people in many different states help keep it clear and in good repair. Backpackers can find shelters along the trail to sleep in at night. These too are kept and repaired by people who love the Appalachian Trail.

We have told you about only three of the many areas where people can backpack in the United States. Another famous one is the Pacific Crest Trail. You can walk this trail from the American border with Canada to the American border with Mexico. It goes through the western states of Washington, Oregon and California.

Hundreds of national and state parks offer the backpacker a chance to see, hear and feel the natural world. It is an experience that provides a lifetime of memories.

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.