Readers share their best national park memories

On Sept. 27, the six-part Ken Burns documentary series The National Parks: America's Best Idea will begin airing on PBS stations. To mark the occasion, USA TODAY asked readers to send us their best national park memories. Here is a sampling of what we received.

Words were unnecessary

I was living in Las Vegas a few years ago when my mother, who had been fighting cancer, asked to visit. Picking her up at McCarran International, I tried not to notice how gaunt and frail she looked. On the last day of her stay, I suggested we visit Zion National Park.

The park in late October was not crowded. A light breeze fanned our faces as we stepped off the shuttle bus. The late afternoon sun shone brilliantly in an almost cloudless blue sky.

Mom was visibly moved. We walked down to the Virgin River that runs between soaring monoliths known as Great White Throne, Temple of Sinawava and The Sentinel. We leaned on some rocks in silence, watching the river as it splashed its way through the canyon, and saw two white-tailed deer feeding quietly on the opposite bank.

I wanted to tell my mother how much I loved her, to thank her for all she had done for me and how I was proud to be her son. I turned toward her, but the words did not come.

Then I felt her hand upon my arm. I turned back to see a look of recognition on her face. I didn't need to say anything — she understood.

In the weeks that followed, we spoke often about our visit to Zion — even making plans to return in the spring. It wasn't to be.

In March she was moved to hospice care. And then came the call I was dreading. She was gone.

I know she carried with her to the end the memory of that afternoon in Zion.

— Derek Braybrooks, Boiling Springs, S.C.

Grizzled camper bests a bear

When our four children were young, visiting the closest national parks was an affordable way to vacation. The kids slept in a tent, while my husband and I slept in a converted truck bed.

One night in Yosemite, I woke up to find the truck-bed camper rocking back and forth. I knew it was a bear. My grumpy husband got up, leaned forward and opened the hatch.

"You're right," he said, sticking his head back in. "It's a bear."

My heart was racing. I was afraid for my children in the nearby tent.

But my husband stuck his head back outside, waved his arms and growled.

The bear scampered away.

— Beverly Dockens, North Las Vegas, Nev.

Peace in a chaotic time

More than 40 years ago, my future wife and I met while working as summer employees in Yellowstone National Park. We returned eight years ago, but what we got this time was shock instead of romance: We were there during 9/11.

The morning of the attacks, some 200 visitors stood in the lobby of the Lake Hotel, trying to watch a lone 13-inch TV set. We all wondered: Will we ever get home? Will airline reservations be honored? Will rental cars be available?

Within a day, an exodus was underway. Hotels and campgrounds emptied.

Those of us who remained began to share information and offer reassurances. Eight days passed before we were able to leave Yellowstone, and in that time a fellowship of strangers formed. Our way of showing gratitude has been to join organizations seeking to protect and preserve the national parks.

— William A. Bake,Boone, N.C.

Bird draws flock of people

In August 1969, my family brought our pet, Tarsi — a 3-month-old crane — to Yellowstone National Park. My father, an ornithologist, was studying sandhill cranes, and Tarsi was too young to be left in our Idaho home alone.

As we walked back into the parking lot from Yellowstone Falls, we saw a park ranger surrounded by people. A woman shrieked, "There it is! The ostrich!" Although my father explained that Tarsi was a crane, the ranger said that Tarsi had to be on a leash if she was a pet. My father explained to the ranger — and the crowd — that sandhill cranes are native to the area.

An impromptu lecture followed. Everyone enjoyed the event — except the woman who initially screamed. She had retreated to her RV in fright.

— Celeste A. Drewien,Albuquerque

Beauty is a common language

Twenty years ago, we camped at the Grand Canyon. On the third afternoon, we hiked out to the rim to catch the sunset. We found a great spot, along with 30 to 35 other people from different countries, speaking French, Japanese, German.

The colors and shadows of the sunset in the canyon were so inspiring, so incredible, that as the sun crossed the horizon all of us present could only exchange smiles. Spontaneously, everyone stood and applauded!

My family will never forget that simple experience we shared with each other and the other travelers, with whom we found a way to communicate.

— Bob Wiegert,Ballwin, Mo.

Readers: Have you had a memorable national park experience? Share your story below.