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The road from the French town of Ax-les-Thermes toward the principality of Andorra high in the Pyrenees Mountains follows a tributary of the Ari?ge and an electrified rail line that tunnels under the mountains at Puigcerda, Spain, on its way between Paris and Barcelona. The N20 highway continues west from Col de Puymorens, twisting on hairpin turns like those leading to our own national parks out West, until it reaches the snow banks high in the Pyrenees. At that point, resort chateaus and hotels line the mountainsides, and ski slopes carve a pathway to casinos. On the other side of the divide lies the city of Andorra. Like so many small principalities in Europe, the fully modern, bustling city is a land of banks, secret banking laws, hotels, glamorous shopping districts, and gambling.

Then one continues south on a curved but not twisted two-lane highway, finally crossing the border into Cataluna — or “Catalunya” as it is called in the old Catalonian language — perhaps the most prestigious province of Spain. Highway C14 continues south to Aragon, the most desolate of Spanish provinces, but the east-west N260 continues to skirt the Pyrenees, with narrow roads leading up to expensive resorts, ski lodges, hotels, and mountain casas. Skiing and mountain climbing are popular sports in Catalonia, but they can also be expensive if the climber or skier must be rescued.

Beginning in September 2009, PBS presented a six-part special from Ken Burns on the history of America’s national parks. It began with President Lincoln sending some former slaves who had formed a buffalo cavalry to protect land in the Yosemite Valley. Later, Army troops evicted the Native American tribe that lived there and seized the then-unoccupied valley for whatever purposes California commercial interests wished, including mining and timber. Part of the Yosemite Park territory was later dammed and flooded as a reservoir for San Francisco’s water needs.

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