Recent comments

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    If the surgeon was elegant in his cuts and the audience were med students minoring in art or chorepgraphy - then I guess so.

  • Reader Participation Day: Which National Park Is Your Favorite For Fall Colors?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    We don't usually do much fall color traveling to parks, as that seems to be when everyone is headed to the parks. Getting around Acadia or Great Smoky Mountains a few weekends from now will be miserable , though I hear the colors are spectacular in both.

    Personally, we'd head a couple hours up the road to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Maple-Beech forests give a nice spectrum from yellow to red on a background of the near-white dunes and the blue of Lake Michigan.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    At some point you have to ask: Is the operation a success if the patient dies?

  • Fall From Tokopah Falls Kills Visitor to Sequoia National Park   5 years 37 weeks ago

    i too was at the scene shortly after the accident..i arrived with the trail crew, i wish there was more we could have done, your family has the deepest regards from the trail crew and myself. RIP trevor.

  • FAQs About the Out-of-Control Big Meadow Fire at Yosemite National Park   5 years 37 weeks ago

    tomp and Tim, I have to tell you that I've learned more about the mechanics and uses of prescribed fire burn from your discussion than in a year's worth of classes. I'm just a neophyte compared to you but I'm curious about something. I'm sure the planners kept the drought conditions in mind; how much of a factor would it have been in their planning? That they did it under these conditions says to me that they thought it to be an acceptable risk.

    P.S. my captcha for this is: "1-inch foamy". Spooky.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Heaven's Gate was a financial flop but is considered by many film critics to be an artistic success. I myself audited some film history classes where the film was used to illustrate exceptional work in cinematography. Slow yes but not a bad film at all.

  • FAQs About the Out-of-Control Big Meadow Fire at Yosemite National Park   5 years 37 weeks ago


    I come at this from a scientific and resource conservation viewpoint, but also am mindful of the danger of bureaucratic decision making.

    I fully agree that fire can and often is critical in myriad ways, and do have an understanding of forest biomes and the dynamics of fire as a beneficial agent, and while I also agree that in the long run fire is a suitable and natural agent to insure a healthly forest, I do think we can be too forgiving in the case of bureaucratic mismanagement, if in fact that is what occured here.

    Agreed, I don't want a scapegoat if there was no negligence in this case. However, the very fact of ordering a burn of this sort in the 4th year of severe drought, in extremely dangerous fire conditions, and with a low margin for error indicates that if there was not a personal act of negligence by someone on the ground, then there very well could be negligence in the process that moved this forward.

    Granted your argument about fires like this being necessary to restore pre European contact forest conditions may be a valid one, however the point must be made that this fire takes place in a very altered natural environment, in which pre-contact conditions are no longer a reasonable objective. There have been too many human caused impacts, from global warming, to road building in the park and development outside, to air pollution impacts, and the list goes on, for us to operate as if this were an undisturbed forest ecosystem needing burns like this one to return to a natural state. Having said that, I hope I can buy you a beer and the forest looks good and healthy again in 50 years.

    My guess however is human impacts already being recorded will alter that recovery substantially. Namely that an altered climate regime predicted in the Sierra (and already here by many measures) of lower than normal snowpack, warmer winter and summer conditions, higher snowlevels and less soil moisture retention into the summer due to these conditions will lead to an unpredictable forest recovery, slower growth, an altered succession cycle, and unpredictable results.

    No supernatural prediction is being required or expected here of our NPS fire managers. And I don't think perfection is a requirement or a possibility that anyone really demands. Just an understanding that we must have as you say a failsafe (some that appears to have not been part of planning) in case of unpredictability and error, real accountability, and an understanding that to allow fires to burn inside areas like Yosemite is much more complicated an issue than simply managing a healthly forest as in pre contact days. Those days are gone and our understanding of how forests behave post fire , especially temperate forests like those in the Sierra, is certainly incomplete given the accelerating impacts of climate change and other human caused factors.

  • Fatal Fall from Angels Landing in Zion National Park   5 years 37 weeks ago

    My heart goes out to the the lady who just lost her life and to her love ones. Like me, when I enter our parks, I expect she was having a good time. Sadly she will have no more tales to tell future generations. Each summer we take our grandchildren on trips which include several national parks. We get up early every day and do a lot of hiking. As for myself, I have tried two times to "hike" out on Angel's Landing. I did not go very far the first time. I was, I thought, more prepared the second attempt. With me during our second trip were my husband and three grandchildren. On this second attempt when we arrived at Scout's Landing we stopped for awhile. I had the three kids sit down to talk with them. The eldest decided not to go at all. I told the two who would join me that if I said "stop" they must stop immediately. No questions. Stop right now. I told them if I said we would need to turn around, there would not be any discussion. I laid down the rules up front. We took off all extra gear such as fanny packs, emptied pockets if need be, removed extra jackets, removed our rain/sun hats, made sure are hiking boots were tied. When we started our "hike" I was extremely slow. The two kids could have been mountain goats but they helped each other and me. We arrived at one point on the trail. I peered left. The fall would be straight down. To the right if I missed a handhold or step there would be nothing to grab going down into Refrigerator Canyon or somewhere. I did not know where I would land if I slipped. I could just see what the consequences would be. I knew I had to turn back. If I got out all of the way I still had to come back. As it was, I was slow on the short return that I did have. I felt badly that I held others back but everyone on the trail that day was extremely courteous. In this situation this is as it should be. I have some amusing, luckily not life threatening, stories of getting misplaced in the Grand Canyon. I have slipped and fallen in less lethal places. Still, I would not want to close off options for others who are more capable than I am. I am now a great grandmother and hope to show my great grandson all that I can.

  • National Park Foundation, Armed With $500,000 Grant, Working To Bring More Minorities into National Parks   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Thanks. Operator failure.;-) It's fixed now.

  • National Park Foundation, Armed With $500,000 Grant, Working To Bring More Minorities into National Parks   5 years 37 weeks ago

    It was great to see this post online. Wanted to mention that the hyperlink to the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund does not work. Am hoping you can correct it for readers.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Thank you - that link produces an impressive list, even if it does need to be updated!

  • Too Many Deer in the Nation's Capital? Rock Creek Park Holds a Public Meeting on Wednesday   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Controlling the deer population in Rock Creek Park or along the C&O Canal is extremely complicated and politically sensitive. In addition to those who simply love the deer and cannot abide with the killing of the animal, there is the obvious issue of safety. A closely managed hunt when the areas are closed to visitors might briefly reduce the resident deer population, but more would quickly move in from adjacent areas. Chemical sterilazation might help, particularly if it did not decrease the sex drive in target males. Bringing in wolves is probably not a good idea given the density of human use. Wolves are opportunists and would undoubtedly feast on pet dogs and cats as well as deer. Without natural predators, the populations will probably grow beyond the carrying capacity of the areas eventually resulting in disease and/or habitat deterioration and a population crash of the deer.

  • Proposed Power Lines at Everglades National Park Highlight Several National Issues   5 years 37 weeks ago


    The lower end of Shark River Slough will be saltwater Florida Bay well before then. [As sea level rises / land subsides, the mangroves aren't killed, but new seedlings can't establish. Then, when a storm rips through the mangroves, the "coastline" moves inland (uphill) kilometers to tens of kilometers at a time. We don't know how far inland/north the mangroves can migrate, as their northern extent is limited by occasional freezes.]

    However, the area in question is the northwest corner of ENP and is a bit higher (1.24-1.69 meters above sea level!, see ). The old estimate of sea level rise by 2100 for south Florida was on the order of 60cm (dark blue/purple to red in that map), and thus the southern and western half to 2/3 of ENP that is now mangroves & marsh will be below sea level.

    [My house was up on the ridge in South Miami, almost 5 meters asl, and thus only likely to become the equivalent of Key largo by 2100.]

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Heaven's Gate may have been a financial disaster and artistically mediocre, but surely it's better than City Slickers II?

    There seem to be at least five titles of early films shot at Mount Rainier not listed at the film link Bob cites above. Film buffs may be interested in the following from the historical sidebar 'A Mountain For The Movies' on page 28-29 of Mount Rainier National Park, by Jerry & Gisella Rohde (1996):

    "Three o'clock on a fall afternoon [probably 1924]. A large party has gathered on the Nisqually Glacier. Three guides and eight rangers are with the group, and one of these, chief guide Heine Fuhrer, peers anxiously at the gathering clouds, He approaches the party's leader, advises him that they should go back, and is promptly ignored. A short time later, Fuhrer repeats his warning: 'We must leave here not later than 3:45.' Again there is no response."

    "The minutes speed by. Suddenly an icy blast sweeps across Rainier's flanks, and the group is pelted by the
    beginnings of a blizzard. Now everyone races for safety as the storm roars down upon them; three of the
    women are carried the last stretch by the men."

    "A scene from a thrill-a-minute movie? Almost. Only in this case it is the film makers themselves who become
    part of the drama, as one of Rainier's mood swings disrupts Cecil B. DeMille's shooting of The Golden Bed.
    The storm rages throughtout the night, scattering and shattering some $22,000 worth of film and equipment
    that the crew left on location when they fled. Decisely walloped by the weather, DeMille admits defeat and
    departs for Hollywood the next morning."

    "The daunted director was not the only one to have movie troubles on the mountain. In 1937, an April
    blizzard snowed in Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power as they tried to finish scenes in the Scandinavian skater's
    second movie Thin Ice. Still, the setback had its rewards for the leading couple; reputed to be 'real-life' sweethearts, they no doubt found extra time to snuggle at the Paradise Inn."

    "Other, less-illustrious performers also plied their trade beneath the peak, creating such now-forgotten
    matinee favorites as Raw Country and Wings of the Storm, whose titles indicate that the mountain may have been up to more meteorological mischief."

    "One star had no difficulty adapting to Mount Rainier's weather. Balto, the sled dog made famous by his
    1920s run to Nome witha supply of diptheria antitoxin, came south to the park for a filming of his life-saving exploit. Production Manager W. H. Ely announced that he was actually hoping for a storm so that he could accurately reproduce Balto's dash through Alaska's wintry wilderness."

    I couldn't find any listed year or title for this last re-creation with a quick search of 'Balto'.

    Also, Otto Lang started several ski schools in the Northwest and was an early film producer. He starred in the 1936 documentary Ski Flight, partly shot at Paradise and scouted filming locations there for Thin Ice. Bits of his Rainier footage were spliced into many a mountain or skiing sequence in films of subsequent decades.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Guys, guys, just face the facts. Film distributors are not stupid, and they like money just as much as you and me (maybe more?). If Heaven's Gate was even a half-way decent movie, they'd have figured out a way to make money on it. It isn't, and they haven't.

  • Too Many Deer in the Nation's Capital? Rock Creek Park Holds a Public Meeting on Wednesday   5 years 37 weeks ago

    We've got all sorts of conflicts with deer here in Northern California.

    I live in a wooded suburban area with lots of black-tailed deer. There are issues with the deer eating the contents of people's gardens. Of course the natural population control that used to be here (mountain lions and bears) were wiped out or heavily reduced. There are occasional reports of a startled buck goring someone, and there was one deer in my county that was shot after it showed clear signs of aggression towards people. There are also a few mountain lions here, and there have been sensationalized accounts of their sightings.

    Try Point Reyes National Seashore and the problems they had with escaped exotic deer from hunting ranches. Their worry is that they are out-competing the native deer/elk for resources. The NPS answer has been to hire professional sharpshooters to kill them from helicopters. For the most part they've been efficient, but there have been reports of some winged deer that have been limping near residences. The ones that weren't taken down quickly sometimes died on private land or got defensive around people since they couldn't effectively run away. There's a big sign on CA Highway 1 calling for control methods rather than hunting.

  • Updated: 7-Year-old Dies At Acadia National Park As Hurricane Bill's Waves Wash Three Into Atlantic, Injure 13   5 years 37 weeks ago

    My husband disslocated his shoulder while we were on a cliff watching the waves near Thunder Hole that day. He was the first injury that morning just before noon.
    I too was just amazed at how many hundreds of spectators like us, were all over the rocks, and parked along the roads getting out of their cars to watch these amazing swells and waves hitting rocks etc. that Sunday. Children, mothers with babies..... There were NO WARNINGS to stay away, or to stay off the rocks from the Park Rangers.
    When my husband came up to the road with his disslocated shoulder, the park ranger who had been summonded by our 16 yr old son , just said to us "so what do you want me to do for you?" It was quite evident that we needed assistance to the hospital. We asked him ,and he kindly took my husband to Bar Harbor hopsital for treatment in his Jeep.
    To me, it seemed this park ranger was not at all expecting a situation where people were going to get hurt and killed. We just assumed there was no danger in being there that morning. There had been talk on the news about the high tide, and swells from Hurricane Bill, but who would have thought there would be injuries and a loss of life?
    Either the park rangers in that area are not experienced in deaiing with these hurricane conditions, or maybe they lack the knowledge to know when to make a call to close the area to a potential dangerous site.
    I only hope this tragic day, the loss of a little girl, and injuries to so many, will encourage the Park rangers to focus on new measures to keep us all safe.

  • Proposed Power Lines at Everglades National Park Highlight Several National Issues   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Aren't the Everglades supposed to be underwater by 2100?

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    I second Duncan's opinion. It would have made a good mini-series: reasonably-sized chunks (more suited to our attention spans and bladder capacities) on consecutive nights. Better than similar mini-series I remember.

  • FAQs About the Out-of-Control Big Meadow Fire at Yosemite National Park   5 years 37 weeks ago


    We both agree that something didn't work exactly as planned. Investigation and accountability are necessary, so that we learn more about fire behavior and have better understanding next time. If there was negligence, then folks should be punished or fired; if it was a reasonable judgment call, I hope no one becomes a scapegoat. I assert that a prescribed burn escaping containment is not in and of itself evidence of negligence. Questions and accountability are necessary for government bureaucracies, but also for corporations, medicine, engineering, and any situation where we can learn and improve judgment and decision making.

    We disagree about the effect of this fire in this area. "A forest area that will take two generations to recover" isn't how I understand the ecology of these shrublands and forests. They aren't stable "climax" forests, with canopy trees, saplings, and seedlings of the same species regenerating forever until fire comes along and destroys the forest. Look at the aerial photos on google maps: most of the area is chaparral on slopes, with coniferous trees only on the wetter north facing slopes and draws, and grassy meadows in the bottoms of some valleys, such as Big Meadow (if you toggle between the satellite {zoomed in to photo} and terrain views in google maps around Foresta you can see the pattern).

    These forests and shrublands (chaparral) are fire dependent; they must burn periodically; they will burn one way or the other. Even if it takes 2 or 3 human generations for a complete cycle from burn to big trees, then 1/2 to 1/3 of the overall area needs to burn in our generation, or else much more will burn in our kids' generation (even if climate change isn't drying this area). The ecosystem (or habitat) should be a mosaic of patches of various sizes and ages since last burn and intensities of last burn. That's something we won't accomplish with prescribed burns (among other reasons, no one will ever write a prescription for a burn as big as the current Big Meadow fire, the larger end of the patch size distribution), but prescribed burns are now necessary to keep the landscape from becoming a single large patch, where plants and animals can't disperse between patches of different status, and where the whole system will burn at once when it burns.

    In this case, most of the chaparral shrubs will resprout, be green next spring, and in 5-10 years look about the same as last year. They've evolved in fire prone areas, and only the above ground parts are killed by fire: the root crown resprouts unless the fire was extremely hot and the following winter drier than average. [Many other plants can't compete with the Ceanothus and other shrubs, and remain as dormant seeds until a fire, then germinate cued by chemicals in the smoke & ash and grow & flower for a couple of years. Even some trees are fire dependent: keeping seeds safe in cones until the heat of a fire melts the cone, letting the seeds germinate only after a fire when there are more nutrients available and less competition for light at the height of seedlings, and thus the seedlings have a chance to survive and grow into trees.] I'd be willing to bet you a beer that the stands of pine trees weren't completely destroyed by this fire: what I read implied that there were patches of crown fire that killed trees and patches or strands of ground fire or no burn at all where the trees survived. Yes, 40 or 50 years from now our kids might be able to see signs of where the crown fires were, but they'd have to be much better than I am to be able to distinguish patches without trees because the soil is too thin or the moisture is too low from places where there are no trees because of the fire. Even 10 or 20 years from now, unless you can perfectly align 2 photographs, you may be hard pressed to distinguish photographs from last year (with scattered fire scars from fires in previous decades) from photographs from 2019, with scattered fire scars from the Big meadow fire.

    So yes, given that the area needs to burn, and the burn wasn't a massive stand replacement fire on too large of a scale (e.g., Yellowstone 1988), I think this fire is ok, even if it is 50 times larger and cost a few million more than intended (much of that cost will be recouped by not fighting or setting fires in that area over the next decade or 2).

    More philosophically, from my perspective on the ecological and fire cycle side, if controlled burns are limited to even narrower conditions where 100% will stay within the intended area, only a fraction of the area that most needs to burn can be prescription burned: those conditions are too infrequent. The rest will burn whenever, likely under less favorable conditions. Further, those 100% predictable burns often will be the wrong intensity in the wrong season to do much good ecologically or to mimic pre-European settlement (or, pre-Native American) fire regimes, or even to prevent large, hot, uncontrolled, catastrophic fires. Should we stop open heart surgery or chemotherapy because not 100% of the treatments are successful, or limit them to the mild cases where those treatments are sure to be successful? Is it unacceptable (on more than a personal level: I lost a friend to brain cancer and my dad to pancreatic cancer) if the best treatment (that most likely to work) is given, but the patient dies anyway? Or, if the patient dies of the chemotherapy or on the operating table? Should we automatically punish the doctor for the failed outcome? I prefer the current system of using best judgment to have the best possible chance of success, investigating the outcome (good or bad) to learn more, and accountability if there was negligence, but not suing or punishing the doctor just because the surgery didn't work. I feel the same way about fire management: complex situations require addressing and accepting risk and probabilities, not demands for supernatural perfection. [Doctors and fire managers with low batting averages should be replaced, but not based on single, non-negligent outcomes.]

    Instead of demanding complete perfection in the control, I favor good prescriptions that also are failsafe, where even if the fire escapes no structures or sensitive areas are likely to be burned. [I don't know if that was part of this particular prescription; if not, they got lucky, and one lesson to be learned is the need to make such considerations of the loss if fire escapes part of all future prescriptions.]

  • Too Many Deer in the Nation's Capital? Rock Creek Park Holds a Public Meeting on Wednesday   5 years 37 weeks ago

    While we're at it, drop some wolves off on K St, NW and on Capitol Hill. There are overabundant leeches in both places.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Duncan: Every movie has its defenders. I wonder about an endorsement that includes a recommendation to "skip over the first 20-30 minute scene." That would be an awfully big chunk of a movie of typical length.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    Clara: There's a list of movies filmed in national parks at this site. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated in the past ten years.

  • Was “Heaven’s Gate” the Worst Movie Ever Filmed in a National Park?   5 years 37 weeks ago

    I've seen the movie, and it is far from terrible. I would suspect we could look around any number of b-movies filmed in or around NPs for the title "worst". I can believe it is the most disastrous movie ever made in a National Park. The movie is actually pretty enjoyable in the home, where you can pause it and address nature functions....and you do need to skip over the first 20-30 minute scene at a University. I did a little research on the net when it showed up on Sundance in the last year, and at least some of the actors, like Kristofferson, had some pride in the film. The bad-mouthing the film gets is very over-blown, especially in the modern era where effects are everything and story is unnecessary.

  • Too Many Deer in the Nation's Capital? Rock Creek Park Holds a Public Meeting on Wednesday   5 years 37 weeks ago

    1. During my many years in DC, it was not uncommon to see deer on the road, either within Rock Creek Park, on Military Rd., or as far as 16th Street outside the park. It's still not something that most drivers worried too much about, however. You were more worried about being car-jacked, or much more likely, somebody - usually a taxi cab - doing something dangerous beside you; of course, I didn't spend most of my years driving in DC (I biked and took the subway).

    2. Rock Creek Park is a very long, thin park. Wherever there are deer, they are going to be very nearly outside the park. Whether there are too many or too few, there will be deer potentially on the roads of NW DC.

    2. As for wolves, I would have loved to have seen them reintroduced. I don't know how the people there would have reacted; my sense is that there are far more dangerous things to worry about in DC than wolves. Most people in DC don't have lawns or yards (even the rich), and so dogs aren't being left outside within the city (though Maryland is a different story); most people don't have outdoor cats. It would certainly produce some changes; frankly, they'd be welcome. The wolves would have corridors to travel, as a lot of the parks nearly connect with one another such that wolves could potentially move up the Potomac and into West Virginia, perhaps, even reach the Shenandoahs with some luck. But, in DC, you worry about crime, you worry about the high cost of living; it would have been probably more amusing than anything to watch people worry about wolves (it would have made national news for sure, and that would be a good opportunity to educate people about wolves).

    3. Hunters in Rock Creek Park is not at all practical; it's just not a park where you can at all safely do that; civilization is all around you; there isn't a place in the park where you can escape the roar of cars; people are everywhere, even living in the woods (I knew a guy who was squatting in a cabin for years).

    4. It's a good set of neighborhoods to do this; generally the area around Rock Creek Park is affluent. Any adverse effect from wolves - and there aren't many - would affect the richer residents of the city. So, an ecological experiment would not be foisted on people in the city who generally otherwise have the least say.

    5. So, yeah, wolves ... why not? The only real issue I can think of is that it's not particularly humane to the wolves to reintroduce them (and it wasn't in Yellowstone, either, but what's done is done). And, I think you'd be surprised to find a stronger level of support for it than you might imagine - though it would be an uphill fight at first. Ultimately, it would be good for DC to have that conversation and good for the nation to learn more about wolves and their role.

    Jim Macdonald
    The Magic of Yellowstone
    Yellowstone Newspaper
    Jim's Eclectic World