How can you miss your national parks if they never go away?

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“You know,” I said as I signed my credit card receipt. “Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

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In a country that was built on capitalism and celebrates the free market, national parks in general— and Grand Teton in particular — are quiet reminders that we aren’t defined by the success of our economy, or even our government. There’s more to us than that, and it’s not always obvious.

Maybe, in explaining what national parks mean to us, it’s useful to think of what America would be like without them. We learned that this month, when the government barricaded their entrances. The best part of us was hidden away from view, closed off and inaccessible.

But you have to go if you want to really get it. Buy an annual pass and visit your nearest national park. Repeat if necessary. They have them everywhere, even in Florida, our home state. Ever been to Canaveral National Seashore? Or to the amazing Florida Everglades? They’re national parks.

For us, seeing the incomparable Grand Tetons on Friday with flawless fall weather — blue skies, crisp temperatures and few visitors — was that crystallizing moment.

Hike up to Taggart Lake on a late afternoon, like we did. Mind the bull moose grazing near the trail. And as you come to the top of the hill, look down at the lake and up at the mountain range. Take a deep breath of cool air.

Now you understand.