There is an amazing number of guides to the national parks on the market, from guides specific to individual parks and national guides to insider's guides and trail guides and photography guides. But is there a perfect guide?
Many of the major guidebook publishing houses -- Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Fodor's and Moon, just to name four -- seem to apply the cookie cutter approach. They build a template, and then ask their authors to fill in the details of that template. As a result, if you have one of their guides, you can easily surmise what will be contained in another one.
But is that the best way to go?
A few years ago a guide to Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Treasures, reached my mailbox. It was not a major house's book, but one written by a woman, Janet Chapple, who had grown up in the park. And it was wonderful, in large part because it didn't take a cookie cutter approach, and because she had all these wonderful insights she had gathered from her life in Yellowstone.
(Speaking of Yellowstone Treasures, now in its third edition, the book is celebrating its 10th anniversary and Ms. Chapple is offering a 30 percent discount on purchases made via her website through January 20, 2013.)
Of course, it's not always easy to find someone who grew up in a park, held onto all those insights, and knew how to put pen to paper (or pixel to monitor). That's not to say there's not a better template that can be created to produce a guidebook that's not only more user friendly, but one that is truly outstanding and unusual in its contents.
So, if you were going to write a park guidebook, or simply propose an outline for one, what would you put in it? What must-have information merits inclusion? Lodging and dining seem obvious, and some trails, but what about paddling or backpacking information, birding or wildlife watching, nearby destinations and details on gateway towns?
How would you structure it? Forget better mousetraps. Can a better guidebook be built?