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Backpacker Magazine's National Parks Collector's Edition


Do you think Carlsbad Caverns should be tossed out of the National Park System? NPS photo of Temple of the Sun.

Backpacker magazine has devoted its June issue to the national parks, and the 112-page mag packs quite a lot of information -- some great features on park destinations and a discussion-spurring list of parks the editor-in-chief would do away with in favor of new units -- between the covers.

I must admit I struggled a bit with how Casey Lyons approached his story to a long backcountry loop hike in Glacier National Park with a friend who suffers from biopolar II and "hypomania."

Doctors describe the latter as a persistent and pervasive euphoric, or "elevated," state characterized by infinite energy, fierce competitiveness, and a gluttony for risk. Mike described it has "a 24-7 cocaine high!" and laughed his crazy laugh.

That's not something you might imagine to find in Backpacker. But, to Mr. Lyons' credit, he deftly pulled off twining his friend's condition with the wonders of Glacier's backcountry into an interesting read.

Elsewhere in this issue you'll find Michael Lanza's story about introducing his two young children to the Grand Canyon during a family backpack trek, Ted Alvarez' adrenalin-spewing journey into Denali National Park's backcountry, Steve Howe's adventures deep in the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park, and, among others, Brian Beer's suggestions on how to flee the crowds at Yosemite National Park with a four-day exploration of the Clark Range.

Those all are good reads, the kind of stories that not only pull you into the landscapes but, at the end, leave you thinking, "I need to add that to my to-do list!"

But the editor's note, well, that one leaves you thinking about justifications made around the qualifications for units of the National Park System. True, this is not a new debate for Traveler, but it's always interesting to see how others would approach the selection process. Here's the bottom-line of Jonathan Dorn's position on the matter:

Tough times call for touch decisions. If Congress won't make new parks, we'll swap 8 for 8.

In: ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), Bruneau and Upper Owyhee Rivers, Glen Canyon, Lost Coast, Maine Woods, San Juans, White Mountains, Wind Rivers.

Out: American Samoa, Biscayne, Carlsbad Caverns, Cuyahoga Valley, Dry Tortugas, Hot Springs, Virgin Islands, Wind Cave


Quite the list, no? Not sure about adding Glen Canyon, since, technically, it's already part of the park system. But I like Maine Woods, the White Mountains, and the Wind Rivers. At the same time, I definitely would argue against removing Virgin Islands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Biscayne.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts here, and at Backpacker's website.

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I enjoyed this discussion. Love that NPT attracts such an educated and well-traveled

Yeah - I figured that you probably weren't over 90 years old.  It just seemed out of place since Kings Canyon wasn't added in the 60s/70s.

Heck - I remember meeting a ranger at Timpanagos Cave NM in Utah.  He mentioned how he had personally seen the growth of one particular limestone feature in the cave.  I asked how long he'd been working there, and he said he was a seasonal every summer there since 1944, and my visit was in 2006.


I'm old but not that old.  Fingers engaged before brain.  But you can choose any park created after 1960 and I consider it of my generation.  I first worked as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1959 during, for God's sake, the Eisenhower administration.  Thanks for the good catch.


Rick Smith:
I would hate to think that some future generation of Americans would remove the parks that my generation added such as Guadalupe Mountains, Martin Luther King Jr., Kings Canyon, etc.

 If you don't mind me asking, how old are you? I checked, and Kings Canyon was added in 1940. Maybe you meant Canyonlands?

There's another little thing about the Backpacker list that makes me uncomfortable.  Since 1872, with the establishment of Yellowstone, each generation of Americans, speaking through their congressional representatives, gets to add places to the National Park System that they believe deserve protection in perpetuity.  It is a matter, it seems of me, of generational equity that we give these places the highest standard of care that we can.  I would hate to think that some future generation of Americans would remove the parks that my generation added such as Guadalupe Mountains, Martin Luther King Jr., Kings Canyon, etc.  No, let's not start down that path.  Just because an NPS area does not offer significant opportunities for hiking and camping does not mean that it is a sub-standard area that should be deauthorized.  Backpacker should know better 


Their selection is made entirely on the value of a park in terms of its potential for backpacking, whereas there are more criteria for any park. A place like Wind Cave, which I enjoyed, doesn't have the extensive back country of, say, Yellowstone or Canyonlands, but is preserved largely because of its caves, a worthy thing to do. A backpacker who has hiked extensively may need the more spectacular parks like Canyonlands or Grand Canyon, but I found Wind Cave to be a quiet, pleasant park, a good place to relax, and a good place to hike. I'm sure others who venture to Wind Cave will enjoy it. I'll be going back shortly and look forward to it. It would be a mistake to remove its national park status.

Not sure about Wind Cave.  Its backcountry is pretty spectacular--prairie mixed with ponderosa pine forest, limestone cliffs, rushing streams; bison, prairie dogs, pronghorns--and I didn't run into another soul out there.  Is the backcountry not officially designated wilderness?  Is that the case for swapping it out?

That "somebody" who mentioned the Carlsbad backcountry is a former superintendent of Carlsbad.

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