The first glimpse of Yosemite’s El Cap. The fiery red color of Shenandoah Valley in the fall. The stunning expanse of the Grand Canyon. The gentle and flowing features of Arches.

These things stick with you, happily stored with your most cherished memories. Thanks to our National Parks system, these memories will be shared across generations of adventurers seeking the wild and beauty that these places have to offer.

In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Explore, a group of our Dream Team ambassadors share their memories and thoughts on the United States’ greatest treasure: the National Park System.

Photo: Peter Holcombe

Last year, the National Park system celebrated 100 years of being the coolest thing about America. Maybe they didn’t come out and say that exactly, but I think anyone who has visited at least one of our 59 national parks knows this to be true. Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt recognized this back in 1916 and the importance of these parks grows with each passing year.

In 2016, the National Parks received 331 million recreational visits. I’m sure each of you accounted for more than a few of these visits. Each of these visits has an impact. Hopefully, each of these experiences renewed the visitors value for wild places, our environment and the important connection between this world and mankind.

This independence day, we wanted to celebrate Independence Day by celebrating our wonderful park system. Our Dream Team ambassadors shared some stories and photos displaying the importance and significance of the parks in their lives. We hope you do the same in the comments below.

Photo: Paulina Dao

Nathan Hadley:

If it wasn’t for the National Parks, the seed of wonder may never have been instilled in me. Growing up in the Midwest, my family would take yearly trips to visit my grandparents near Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. Almost every summer of my life I have created memories of sitting beside the mighty Kings River, with the walls of one of the largest canyons towering above me, dreaming of climbing their 2000 foot faces someday. And the Sequoias!—I consider it a spiritual pilgrimage to go back and walk under the them. They are like mothers, a silent, watchful presence in my life. As I grow and develop, and now calling Seattle home—where I regularly visit the Olympics, Mt. Rainier, and the North Cascades—the Parks, and I’m not exaggerating, have continued to nurture me, inspire me, and give me so much unending joy.

Photo: Nathan Hadley

Jordan Rosen:

“Exploration is the physical expression of intellectual passion,” is a quote that jumped out at me as I read Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s, “Worst Journey in the World,” many winters ago. That year, this book spawned an adventure of my own.

After driving from Peru, I sat in an office on the Southern tip of South America of the office of the climbing guide I had hired. As we poured over topo maps, I tried desperately to look like I was absorbing the some of the information. As soon as I was capable of detaching myself from the firehose I was drinking out of, I realized that on all four walls of that room, there were many posters of the same place – and it wasn’t Patagonia. It was from where I had come from. Yosemite Valley, close to my home town of San Francisco. There were at least 15 different posters and images of Half Dome, El Cap, and Glacier Point tacked up on the walls. I was floored.

I was young enough to not have grasped Yosemite’s unique position in the world, and certainly not how special the concept of a national park system really is.

While I will never claim to be an adventurer writer, I will take a moment to change one of Mr. Cherry-Gerrard’s words, and throw down a quote of my own. The US National Parks are a physical expression of intellectual passion. They are a physical representation what we as a country have decided we value, and what we stand to protect. We should be proud, amazed at what a previous generation was able to accomplish, and stand ready to accomplish more. Now, here’s a photo to help spread the stoke!

Photo: Jordan Rosen

Kathy Holcombe:

After an 18 month tour of over 40 National Parks, we are often asked which one is our favorite.  Honestly, it is impossible to choose because our favorite is often the last one we visited, and they are all so incredible for a million different reasons. However, we all agree that these top the list of favorites:

1. Grand Teton National Park – we love mountaineering and kayaking there.

2. Zion National Park – we love exploring the slot canyons.

3. Yosemite National Park – we love rock climbing and kayaking/swimming in the Merced River.

4. Dry Tortugas National Park – we love snorkeling, kayaking and fishing there.

5. Grand Canyon National Park – we love kayaking the mighty Colorado.

The one thing that they all have in common is that they are places where you can lose yourself in the wilderness, often finding yourself in the process.

Photo: Kathy Holcombe

Alicia Erskine:

It is important that people have access to National Parks because it allows people to experience something new, something essential for their health, something that holds memories. For me personally, I get such joy from seeing a new park, hike new trails, reach new summits. I need it to maintain good health. Being out in the parks provides a relief to my anxiety. An ease to my mind.

Paulina Dao:

National parks are about connection: connecting to nature, the land, the earth; connecting to the people who have walked, roamed and climbed here long before I was born; creating connections with others in person or via the Internet; lastly, connecting with myself, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Photo: Paulina Dao