Here at Ethnotek, we love exploring, learning and immersing ourselves in new cultures and experiences. This definitely includes the great outdoors!
We asked a few of the ETK staff which national parks from around the world they loved or had a special place in their heart for, and we have a few fun stories to share! We hope you enjoy, and be sure to let us know your favorite national park or outdoor location - we’d love to add them to our future travel plans!
Photo: Recii Davis
My favorite National Park is in the U.S. and it's actually a National Monument: El Malpais National Monument in Arizona. I love El Malpais because of its' geological history and isolation. El Malpais sits at the southeast corner of the Colorado Plateau, which spans across the Four Corners area of the U.S. and inland to the four states that make up Four Corners: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. The first time I visited El Malpais was on accident. A friend and I were heading to Wyoming and decided to turn down a road, and we happened upon the Monument. We had National Park Passes, so we zipped through the front gate and then meandered down a dirt road until we saw the sandstone bluffs. The sun was starting to set, there was barely any wind, and no other human in sight.
To this day, that sunset is still the most serene and vivid sunset I have ever experienced.
I have since then visited El Malpais several times again, hiking through a lightless cave, crawling through lava tubes, and trekking up a dormant cinder cone volcano. I have a knack for geology, and specifically volcanoes, and this place has so many geological features that were all caused by a volcanic eruption 800 years ago.
In December 2016 I traveled to India for several weeks. While I’ve been to several UNESCO sites in Asia, including Durbar Square in Nepal and Ankor Wat in Cambodia, the one that has stood out to me the most is the Taj Mahal.
I fell in love with India because of so many reasons, but one of those reasons is definitely it’s history. India’s history is one of the most incredible and complex in the world. Its fingerprints, the remains of lost empires, are strewn throughout the subcontinent, marked in fortresses rising from deserts, glistening palaces and mausoleums left from Kings. There are temples hiding away in the jungles, medieval markets, holy rivers as the essence of deep-rooted and thriving religion, colonial city architecture, a melting pot of different peoples from all over the subcontinent, a tight hold on traditional craft, and every inch of old-world architecture splashed in a sea of color. Most of the country’s history and traditions lies in it’s northern regions, in particular Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Three of its major cities – Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, are deemed the country’s “golden triangle”, a tourist circuit easily and efficiently connecting the three. Pushing beyond into the arid and dusty landscape is an in-depth experience across a range of cultural and architectural phenomena
With Agra being a short three to four hours from Delhi, and possessing some of the best gems in the region, I had to make my way there, especially for a spectacular sunrise. The allure of the Taj Mahal is legitimate. The monument glistens and sparkles, and the light even changes dramatically from morning to evening. Everything is perfectly symmetrical and finished in marble. This “Seventh Wonder of the World” took 22 years, over 20,000 laborers, and 1,000 elephants used to transport building materials, to build. Verses of the Quran are inscribed around each massive entranceway. Besides it’s physical splendor, I think one of my favorite things about this incredible structure was the story behind it, a love story molded into literally perfect design. An enduring testament to love, the Taj was built in 1653 by the Mughal king Shah Jahan as the final burial place for his wife. Shah’s intentions of creating the largest mausoleum in the world, with masterful classical symmetry, were successful. Take away even one element of its design and the harmony is destroyed. Seemingly endless verses of the Quran are inscribed around the massive doorways, and tower up to what seems like touch the sky, when looking up from below. The interior features semi-precious gems meticulously hand cut and inlaid in intricate patterning, surrounding the tomb of Shah Jahan, his wife, and his son. Bright-green parrots criss-cross the skies above, twisting and diving majestically adding further to the place’s mystic atmosphere.
From the second took a step through the gate of the mighty Taj, my breath was taken away. The best part of all though, is that there are thousands of temples, forts, relics, palaces, and mausoleums that are just as incredible, to be explored across the vast northern provinces of mother India, and I hope to be able to return again to explore more.
Snorkeling in Sipadan in Malaysian Borneo is one of my most cherished memories and is why I selected it as my favorite national park. After climbing Mt. Kinabalu, we took a bus to the coastal town of Semporna, to use as our jump-off point. Getting to Sipadan wasn’t going to be easy! We didn’t know at the time that we needed a special permit to visit the island since it’s usually only visited by marine biologists and videographers. The weather wasn’t on our side either. There was a storm on the horizon the day we wanted to go, and no tour operators were willing to take us out. Part of our small five person group was willing to call it quits, but my friend Nick and I were insistent on going. We heard it was one of the best dive spots in the world and we couldn’t let it go.
Photo credit: http://www.wildland.com
After some asking around, we managed to find a long tail boat driver who was willing to take us for a few extra bucks, so we hired him and off we went! As we started our journey we noticed that our boat driver’s engine didn't sound like the highest quality rig as it sputtered, spat and and jerkily bobbed from fast to slow. The further we got from shore, the waves got bigger and bigger and white caps started to form. As we crested one particularly large wave the boatman’s engine cut. He tried repeatedly to restart it and waves started splashing into the boat. He threw a couple large plastic water jugs with the tops cut off at us and gestured for us to start using them to bail out water. Panic set in!
After a few minutes of bailing water out and looking at each other worriedly, the engine started back up and we were moving again. Fwew! Soon we could see the tiny island of Sipadan and relief set in. We soon docked, the boatman paid the officer at the beach for our permit and we were given the thumbs-up to snorkel. Woohoo!
We strapped on our gear and plunged into the abyss! What makes Sipadan so incredible is that it’s a plateau reef. Meaning after about 50 meters from shore, the reef drops off, straight down until the water becomes black. And all along the cliff walls is vividly colored coral and is brimming with life. Huge schools of fish surrounded us in every direction that was pretty disorientating, but also breathtaking. We swam with green and hawksbill sea turtles, lionfish, white & black tip reef sharks, and the list goes on and on! Apparently, there are tunnels through the plateau that divers can meander through and there’s even a sea turtle graveyard inside.
We snorkeled for hours, stopped for lunch and snorkeled some more. It was absolutely mind blowing! There is an entirely different world under the ocean surface that is still being, discovered, studied and must be protected. We’re all truly grateful for the experience that day and though it was a bumpy ride getting there, it was worth it.
If you’re ever in Sabah, Borneo, be persistent and adventure to Sipadan, you won’t be disappointed.
My favorite national park is part of Superior National Forests and is located at the northernmost tip of Minnesota, practically hugging Canada. It’s comprised of an incredible forest surrounding glacial lakes and rivers. Growing up in Minnesota, I spent as much time as possible at the lakes (weather permitting of course!) and love to fish. My family took a few trips up to the BWCA when I was young, but it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I really fell in love with it.
I started a tradition with my dad that on labor day weekend, the two of us would pack up the car and drive up from the Twin Cities to spend a few days together in the wilderness. The drive alone was spectacular because it was hours of passing beautiful lakes and trees filled with the most beautiful fall colors. It was a complete dream to share all of the same interests with my dad, reading, playing card games, camping, fishing, hiking and portaging from lake to lake. We knew all the best fishing spots, the most perfect places to have a picnic and read a few chapters and always ended the night with a game of cribbage. I loved these trips so much that I even took Jake up there for a weekend when we were first dating back in 2005!
After I graduated high school it was harder to find the time to take these trips, not to mention college was followed by a decade spent living abroad which of course hasn’t made it any easier! I long for the day when my dad and I can take another trip up to the incredibly stunning boundary waters.
We hoped you enjoyed our excursion down memory lane! Travel is so important, as a catalyst for growth and as an opportunity for experiences that we enjoy making! Leave us a comment with the story about a place you love - we'd love to hear!