Gone to look for America
Forget the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Great Wall. Richard Wixon is taking America by storm – one national park at a time.
“Why not see your own country?” said the 79 year-old Grass Valley resident. “You don’t have to have a passport, you don’t have to have shots. And it’s a lot cheaper. “
This August when Wixon and his wife take a bus into Denali National Park, Wixon will have visited every national park in the 50 states and territories.
From his first national park visit at the age of 17, standing on top of Kilauea volcano and peering down at the bubbling lava at Hawaii VolcanoesNational Park, he fell in love with the country’s protected areas.
His work as a Marine during World War II, and more recently as a Red Cross volunteer, gave Wixon the chance to travel widely, even to far-flung territories such as American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Born in Omaha, Neb., in 1927, Wixon moved to Los Angeles in the mid-’30s before joining the service. He worked as the task force commander of the Los Angeles Fire Department from 1955 to 1976.
His skills as a firefighter led to an opportunity to work as a river guide for eight summers in the Grand Canyon for the famous concessionaire and Colorado River runner Georgie White.
According to Wixon, White liked to have firemen on her crews because of their rescue skills. The job didn’t pay – not that Wixon cared.
“We just did it to be able to go through the Grand Canyon,” he said.
Later, after he retired in 1976, Wixon volunteered for the American Red Cross disaster services team. Whenever he wasn’t working, he spent his time off trekking through the closest national park or monument.
The National Park Service lists 58 officially designated National Parks and hundreds of national monuments, preserves and historic sights.
Every year, about 270 million tourists travel the nation’s highways to take their own snapshots of Yosemite’s Half Dome or Mt. Rushmore’s presidential profiles.
Wixon agrees with the writer Wallace Stegner, who called our National Parks “the best idea we ever had.”
“We’ve got things you could never see anywhere else in the world – Glacier National Park, the Badlands, the Everglades,” Wixon said. “Every park that you go to is different from the one you’ve been to before.”
To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail jillb@theunion .com or call 477-4219.
About our national parks
• President Woodrow Wilson signed an act creating the National Park Service on August 25, 1916.
• First national park: Yellowstone
• The National Parks include 390 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state except Delaware and the U.S. territories.
• Total visits to National Parks in 2006: 272,623,980.
• National Park Service budget in 2006: $2.3 billion.
For more information about national parks, go to http://www.nps.gov.
– National Park Service
t On the Net
Check out an audio slideshow on Wixon’s journeys:
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