When we used to go out to New Mexico to visit family when I was young, I couldn't wait to get on a horse.

I mean, THAT was what being out west was all about, as far as I was concerned. I loved it. And, to be honest, whenever I got to ride a horse, it was NEVER just for fun. They would put me to work. "Let's go down to the stable and check on the new colt." "Ride with me to take salt blocks to the cattle." It was great.

When I was 12 years old, we all went camping back in one of many ravines my aunt and uncle staked out as campgrounds. My cousin Michael asked me if I wanted to ride in one of the trucks or ride a mule. Of course, I jumped at the chance to ride the mule. If he'd said ELEPHANT, I would have agreed.

Welllll, what isn't a very long distance to folks who live in the arid southwest and the southern Rockies--where everything is spread out--is actually a long distance to easterners from Kentucky.

It was nothing for Michael to spend TWO HOURS on horseback, but I had no idea what riding a mule without a saddle meant. Their backs are shaped like roofs on a house and when I was done, I was a 12-year-old walking around like an 80-year-old.

When I noticed that mules are still very much a part of the workforce in the Hoosier National Forest, I thought back to my two hours "aboard" a stubborn old mule and realized how much easier these guys have it (they might disagree, though) by WALKING their pack:

I'm not exactly sure what they mean when they say "trail work," but THEY know and that's all that matters.

I've been to the Hoosier National Forest a number of times and have never seen the "mule train," but I'd never ask to ride one. I'm sure they wouldn't let me anyway. But the point is, if that mule was a pain in the butt at 12, I don't even want to think about how long I'd nursing my backside today.

But I do encourage visits to Hoosier National Forest. It's just beautiful and if you hurry, you'll still catch some pretty cool foliage.

LOOK: Stunning vintage photos capture the beauty of America's national parks

Today these parks are located throughout the country in 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The land encompassing them was either purchased or donated, though much of it had been inhabited by native people for thousands of years before the founding of the United States. These areas are protected and revered as educational resources about the natural world, and as spaces for exploration.

Keep scrolling for 50 vintage photos that show the beauty of America's national parks.

RANKED: Here are the most popular national parks

To determine the most popular national parks in the United States, Stacker compiled data from the National Park Service on the number of recreational visits each site had in 2020. Keep reading to discover the 50 most popular national parks in the United States, in reverse order from #50 to #1. And be sure to check with individuals parks before you visit to find out about ongoing, pandemic-related safety precautions at www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

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