What's In Your National Park Reading Room?

After tramping through national parks for upwards of four decades, I've understandably picked up a few books on the parks. Among my collection are the usual trail guides and park guides, natural history selections and park histories.

While many park travelers no doubt have a few park-related texts on hand, how might the park aficionado round out their library? Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

Death, Daring, & Disaster by Charles "Butch" Farabee, Jr.

Revised in 2005, this 547-page veritable search and rescue encyclopedia tracks more than 400 SAR missions conducted across the National Park System since Yellowstone became the world's first national park in 1872. Chronicling both missteps in the parks and incredible feats of heroism, this page turner not only presents an incredible history of SAR, but conveys the need to be prepared and watch your steps in the parks.

Playing God in Yellowstone by Alston Chase

This controversial book, with the ominous subtitle of "The Destruction of America's First National Park," was first published in 1987 and brought into question the National Park Service's management techniques in Yellowstone. While you might not agree with all his findings, this book will make you think about politics and the parks.

Preserving Nature in the National Parks, A History by Richard West Sellars

Published in 1997, this book provides a historian's view of the evolution of the National Park Service and its system. Mr. Sellars has a keen perspective for authoring this book, as he was employed by the Park Service as a historian at the time he wrote it. Its pages chronicle the management styles of the Park Service's earliest, and more recent, managers and the outcomes they precipitated.

Bear Attacks by Stephen Herrero

First published in 1985 and revised back in 2002, this book is indispensable for those who travel the backcountry of parks with bears, either of the black or grizzly persuasion. Dr. Herrero, a professor emeritus of environmental science and biologist at the University of Calgary, long has been viewed as a leading authority on bear behavior and attacks. This text will help you better understand bear behavior and perhaps make you more comfortable negotiating the park system's backcountry .... if the attacks that he chronicles don't keep you out of the backcountry.

The Grand Controversy by Orrin Bonney and Lorraine Bonney

Who was the first white man to climb the Grand Teton? Was it William Owen in 1898, or did Nathaniel Langford and James Stevenson, members of the 1872 Hayden Survey that explored the landscape that had just a few months earlier become Yellowstone National Park, reach the summit in that year? In this book the Bonneys provide a key portal into America's mountaineering history, tracking not just the ascents of Langford, Stevenson and Owen but a look at other pioneering climbs in the Teton Range.

The Birth of the National Park Service, the Founding Years 1913-33 by Horace Albright

What better way to come to understand the formative years of the National Park Service than by reading the words of Horace Albright, the No. 2 man under Stephen Mather, the Park Service's first director. Mr. Albright, who also served a stint as Yellowstone National Park's superintendent, himself served as Park Service director, from 1929 to 1933.

Desert Solitaire, A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey

How better to come to understand the meaning and value of wilderness than by reading this seminal work by the late Mr. Abbey, who was inspired at the time by his time as a seasonal ranger in what was then Arches National Monument.

Ansel Adams, Our National Parks

A classic, both in photographic style and in subject matter. You won't find a single color photo in this collection, but Mr. Adams' use of black and white and the varying hues in between requires a greater involvement of subject texture and thus often makes a bolder statement that a corresponding color image might.

You can find other reading suggestions in the Traveler's Fireside Reads section. Please let us know what you'd add to these mentions.


I'd add "Into the Wild" by John Krakauer. Alaska and esp. Denali NP are portrayed as both life-changing inspiration, raw, rugged beauty and immense danger to the unprepared. Fascinating insight into the mind of someone who places himself at the mercy of the Alaska wilderness.

Kurt, nice selection of books for summertime reading. You might consider the: Challenge of the Big Trees by Lary M. Dilsaver & William C. Tweed. A synopsis of the resource history of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Excellent reading for conservation and resource majors and for all National Park buffs.

A good list. I'd add a few others as well.

John Wesley Powell's The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons for a unique perspective on the Grand Canyon and tribs.

Searching for Yellowstone by Paul Schullery looks at Yellowstone's resources and the outside forces that affect management.

Frank Wheat's California Desert Miracle is a rather dry but interesting account of the fight to protect the California desert and established the Mojave National Preserve, upgraded Death Valley and Joshua Tree to National Park status, and created some new wilderness areas, among other things.

Roderick Frazier Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind is a classic study of America's changing attitudes toward wilderness and protected public lands and key to really understanding virtually of the other books listed here.

Finally, The Antiquities Act by Harmon, McManamon, and Pitcaithley is a conglomeration of articles that describes the history and influence of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the first legislation to protect cultural resources, and probably more importantly in terms of future impact, the act that provides the President with the unilateral ability to protect public lands as national monuments.

What? Where's Muir? How about "My first summer in the Sierra", or my favorite " Travels in Alaska". If Muir is a little dry for you, try "The Wild Muir". Released by The Yosemite Association, these are short stories about John Muir as others experienced him.

Another I enjoyed recently was " Boundary Waters" by Paul Gruchow. Nice insights as to why wilderness is so important to our psyche, and also some thoughts on Thoreau.

My favorite as of late has been Terry Tempest Williams, A desert rat at heart, she is a master at turning a phrase and has much to say. Try "Red, passion and patience in the desert." And perhaps most topical in the post 9-11 era of conservation, "The Open Space of Democracy", a little gem of a book everyone should read.

This is great stuff, guys. Thanks so much for sharing. If I may, I'd like to recommend the Yellowstone Association website as a way to obtain these books and more, while also supporting our national treasures at the same time. The recent story concerning the financial plight of the Twain and Wharton homes should encourage us to do more, if possible.