Mountain majesties best on the small screen

Inspired in part by Ken Burns' splendid documentary series, "The National Parks," that aired this past fall, I recently took a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

It's a staggering place, with snow-capped jagged peaks poking into the clouds.

There are magnificent herds of elk grazing in the meadows, as an unrelenting chilly wind whips through the valleys.

The place just took my breath away … for like an hour anyway.

See, my problem, whenever I go a place of great natural beauty, is that I get anxious about how long I'm supposed stay to appreciate the mountains, or river, or gorge, or whatever it is.

On my first day in the Rockies, I drove my homely, hulking Jeep Liberty rental into the park, gladly paid the $20 entrance fee, which was valid for five days, handing my money to the bearded park ranger.

It would have been disappointing to go a national park and not see a bearded ranger among the elk and big-horned sheep.

Once you're inside the park there are a series of turn-offs so you can stop to take in the apparent majesty of the mountains.

I took some pictures with my phone - it's how we live now - hopped back in the Jeep, drove to the next turn-off and took some more.

That's what you do at a national park, right? Can I get a ruling?

A few years ago, while at a conference in Las Vegas, I took a side trip to Zion National Park in southwestern Utah, and it really is yet another amazing place within our borders.

I drove in, spent a half-hour looking at some streams and plateaus, then returned to Vegas to place dumb bets on pre-season football.

I know it took the Colorado River millions of years to carve the Grand Canyon, but believe me, you can cover it in, say, an hour. The whole time I'm in these wondrous places I'm thinking:

"I feel insignificant and humbled to be in the awesome presence of nature. Can I go get some lunch now, or is that against the rules?"

Then I feel horribly shallow, because when am I ever going to get back to this place?

Granted, I'm not exactly the outdoor type.

I've never been camping. I don't particularly see the point of hiking great distances without the faint hope of stumbling upon a café or bar.

And I don't look good in fleece vests, not that anyone does, let's be honest.

But I also feel the same uneasiness in museums.

I recall going to the Museum of Modern Art years ago to see the touring exhibition of works by the great Viennese painter Egon Schiele. Schiele is among my favorite artists and I could look at his contorted renderings of the human body all day long.

Or so I thought.

So, I've come to the liberating conclusion that television - so far as dealing with my various anxieties is concerned - is much better than trekking to the natural world.

I hope somebody is kind enough to get me the Burns' documentary on DVD this Christmas so I can enjoy repeated guilt-free viewings of Yosemite and Yellowstone from the comfort of my living room.

This is the opinion of Stephen Chupaska.


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