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 March 23, 2020
Stuck at home? Visit these 5 National Parks online

 Today, I wandered through a lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The orangey-brown passageway was once a vein of the volcano, transporting molten rock from the chamber to the sea. Water dripped from the ceiling and made puddles on the cave floor. It was a strangely soothing sound, even familiar. But this was my first visit. A ranger explained the science of lava tubes and said that the next stop on our tour was the volcanic cliffs. My dog eagerly sniffed along at my side.

Then my pooch got bored and abandoned the lava tube for the couch. You see, I wasn't actually at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I was exploring "The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks," a production of Google Arts & Culture that whisks viewers on a remarkably life-like journey through five National Parks: Kenai Fjords, Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Canyon, Dry Tortugas, and yes, Hawaii Volcanoes. (Google Earth also lets you visit 31 National Parks, but it's a more basic viewer experience.)

If you're cooped up at home alone, or already getting sick of your kids, your partner, or that show you've been binging, "The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks" is a satisfying escape. Whether you spend five minutes on the site or an hour, it's an important reminder that the world is still beautiful and wonderful and weird, even in uncertain times.

Each tour begins with a video introducing the viewer to the park and to your ranger guide. Then a series of highly interactive 360-degree videos immerse you in noteworthy spots while the ranger explains the area's natural history. In Kenai Fjords, I climbed down into a glacier crevasse to the sound of melting ice. In Hawaii Volcanoes, I watched an eruption. Most sections in the series include supplemental videos that allow you to explore each park even further with your personal guide. The information-heavy viewing experience is relaxing, and also a great learning tool for homebound kids (if you have any in your charge, consider asking them to write up a summary of what they learned, or to pick two parks to compare and contrast).

My dog may not have been enchanted by the lava tube, but I was. For a half hour this afternoon, I didn't check my phone or read the news. I just let the sounds of water and ice and lava lull me into a moment of calm.