Treasures of America’s National Parks: National Park Icons – Majesty Abounds

This is the fourth disc in an excellent series on America’s National Parks.  Visually stunning, it will entice just about anyone to want to visit.  This fourth disc focuses on what it terms as “icons” of the parks.  These would seem to be features of the parks that stand out in the minds of the filmmakers and the public.  My one complaint about the three sections of this disc is that it’s heavily slanted to the western United States, basically ignoring anything in the east with the exception of one Inn in Georgia.

Mt. Rushmore & The Black Hills

This celebrates the monumental feat that was a tribute to the birth of America in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The rock here is some of the oldest anywhere in the United States and made the perfect place for this monument.  Now it’s a beautiful place for the beauty of the location as well as the wildlife that abounds around it.

Known as “The Shrine of Democracy” it’s a symbol of freedom and democracy. The monument is framed by an extraordinary collection of flags.  The history of the development of the monument as well as the epic construction is covered quite thoroughly.  The ongoing maintenance is detailed.  There are interviews with park rangers, historians, locals, as well as tourists serve to augment the documentary quite well.

There is also travel information for the region including the town of Deadwood as well as Native American history and their tribal lands. Information on the Crazy Horse Monument is also presented.

In Custer State Park, one of the nicest state parks in the country, Calvin Coolidge’s summer retreat is now a lodge within the park’s boundaries. Now known as the State Game Lodge, it’s surrounded by a preserve. Nearby is Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park, which is also a sacred place to the Sioux Indians.

Great Train Rides

This was something I never thought about before. I had heard of train rides through the Canadian Rockies, but never realized that National Parks also had some great train rides.  This segment highlights six of them.  It’s the first section that truly felt like it was a travel documentary more than a natural one as it seems to want to convince the viewer to take one or more of these train rides.

In the early 1900s, the railroad companies helped open the first National Parks by marketing them as travel destinations.  Along with travel information, there is a brief history of each of these railroads with their construction and development.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs along the route of the Great Northern Railway to Glacier National Park in Montana.  This runs from Chicago to the park with no transfers.  It’s not just a train ride but more like a guided tour complete with stops. This also highlights some of the National Park Lodges nearby including Belton Chalet.

In Denali National Park in Alaska, and the Alaska Railway’s Denali Star. Traveling from Anchorage to Fairbanks, it goes through Denali National Park.  This is also part of Holland America’s Sail & Rail package on their cruises.

The Alaska Railway is also the third great train ride with a trip from Anchorage to Kenai Fjords National Park.  There a boat takes them out on a tour of the park.

The American Orient Express hearkens back to an era when train travel was quite luxurious if you were rich.  This train goes from Seattle to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks.  This gives a very brief look at these parks and what there is to do there, but by far the other DVDs in this series about those specific parks are much more informative.

The Grand Canyon Railway is one where the name pretty much says it all.  Beginning at Route 66 in Williams, Arizona passengers board the steam train which takes them to the Canyon’s South Rim.

Finally, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight goes between Los Angeles and Seattle. This one is a bit of a stretch as the parks aren’t exactly on the railway’s path but a short trip from their stations.  To me, it’s not the same flavor as the other railways in the documentary.  This guide takes visitors to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Crater Lake National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park.  Paramount Ranch, which is one of the oldest working movie ranches, is within the park’s boundaries.

Lodges & Inns

This documentary is strictly devoted to a sampling of the inns and lodges highlighted in other documentaries in this series.  It’s quite well done, especially for people unfamiliar with the features of America’s National Parks.  I loved how it talked about features people don’t think of such as the sprinkler system that saved the Old Faithful Inn as well as architectural highlights that inflated the cost of these inns & lodges but are also largely responsible for why they are so beloved today.

Starts with the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.  I found this to be very interesting and it definitely made me feel like I wanted to visit here.  While I was watching it I was thinking about how much Disney took from it for its design of the Wilderness Lodge, and this is talked about as well.

In Yosemite National Park sits The Ahwahnee Hotel. From its positioning to the theme here, it was well thought-out and planned to blend into its surroundings as well as pay homage to the culture of the West.

In the Grand Canyon, El Tovar sits on the rim and offers some of the most beautiful views around.  The Bright Angel Lodge is a bit more eclectic with a mixture of styles and cabins.  Phantom Ranch sits at the bottom of the Canyon and the journey there is half the fun.

Changing it up a bit and moving to the East, the next stop is the Greyfield Inn at the Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia. Since it’s on an island, the only way there is by boat.  If you think you recognize the name and place, it’s where JFK Jr married Carolyn Bissett.  Watching how secluded and private the island is, it’s easy to understand why choosing this was a no-brainer when the wedding would have likely been a spectacle elsewhere.

In Death Valley National Park amidst the barrenness lies the Furnace Creek Inn.  Surrounded by natural springs, the property is truly an oasis in the desert.  Up in Montana there’s Glacier Park Lodge. The architecture inside is pretty incredible with a majestic lobby area surrounded by tall Douglas fir timbers.  In the back-country of the park sits Sperry Chalet which the same family has run for more than fifty years. Only open in the summer months, it can be hard to get a reservation here.