Recent comments

  • Interpretation on the Tallgrass Prairie   6 years 48 weeks ago

    In reflecting upon Owen's experiences during his recent visit to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, I am afraid that the NPS interpretive program might indeed be operating at the C grade level. Now had the interpreter lied, or fabricated information, I would have given them an F, not a C. Sadly, this reported experience is not inconsistent with a growing number of other observations reporting increasing mediocrity within NPS Interpretive programs.

    Not that long ago, the NPS had a first class educational program staffed with professional naturalists and historians who took personal pride in striving for excellence in park interpretation. Most seasonal uniformed interpreters were secondary teachers and college professors who were employed during their summers as educational liaisons with the NPS and the visiting public.

    P.J. Ryan, of Thunderbear fame suggests that the reason mediocrity may have become so noticeable in NPS interpretive programs over the years is that no one has ever bothered to sue the NPS over a substandard guided walk or evening program. Of course, suing a government agency requires high attorney fees and lots of time.

    On the other hand, critical evaluations of interpretive experiences that are reported on the internet via electronic trip reports might be far more effective in bringing about positive corrective action.

    Preparing a fact sheet of Frequently Asked Questions is easy to revise and serves as an excellent learning reference for new personnel and the visiting public. Why is it that the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve home webpage lists 2006 Bus Tour Schedules? Why is it that only one FAQ is posted ("Where has all the tall grass gone?"). Obviously, NPS website maintenance is clearly needed here in addition to a more comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions and Answers Section.

    I recall my first role as an NPS Naturalist at The General Sherman Tree when the SEKI superintendent would frequently appear with visitors and listen to the presentation. He demonstrated a clear management concern for the quality of the program. SEKI Chief Naturalist Russ Grater would frequently demonstrate in the field what he wanted us to do in communicating an understanding of the value of ancient giant Sequoia forests. NPS Budgets were far less than today's (inflation adjusted) but a professional work ethic was more evident.

    Electronic trip reports published by knowledgeable park visitors which evaluate the integrity and effectiveness of NPS interpretive programs might serve as a modern method by which the NPS can get feedback from the public that will utlimately enhance the overall quality of the park experience.

  • Should the NPS Be Given Mount St. Helens?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    It seems like the USFS lacks the ability to mange a protected area with significant public interest. And given the other National Monuments administered by the USFS, they don't need this ability. Besides the two huge NMs in Alaska (Admiralty Island NM and Misty Fjords NM), the USFS manages tiny Giant Sequoia National Monument, California (just outside Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP), Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains NM near Palm Springs, California (Jointly with the BLM) and there is Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Oregon and of course Mount St. Helens.

    No other NM besides Mount St. Helens has a significant number of visitors. USFS simply isn't used to deal with keeping the balance between tourism and protection in a highly visible NM. So while the NPS lacks funding too, they at least have the experience how to manage protected areas with high public interest.

  • Should the NPS Be Given Mount St. Helens?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    And one more thing, the USFS does not operate three visitor centers in the monument. It used to, but one visitor center (Silver Lake) is now operated by the Washington State Parks and Recreation department and it isn't located in the monument, but several miles away near Interstate 5. Two are left and one is being closed. The one left, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, is essentially a bookstore, a movie theatre and a viewing platform. The visitor center that is closing (Coldwater Ridge) was the one with most of the interpretive displays. This will leave hardly any interpretive opportunities in the monument.

  • Should the NPS Be Given Mount St. Helens?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    As I mentioned last time this came up, there is enormous pressure on the Forest Service for mining, forest and (intrusive) recreational use within the boundaries of the monument. Because the Forest Service's mission is not about protection of the resource, but best use of the resource, the Forest Service is prone to give in to these commercial interests. Mount St. Helens is too vital to science and the public to be parced out to private interests. The amount of compromise so far in the monument is unacceptable (already the boundaries are way too small and porous).

    No, the Park Service can't afford governing the area any more than the Forest Service. But I hope that doesn't stop us from protecting areas that ought to be protected. Mount St. Helens is of significant interest to the public and to science. We have arguably learned more from the 1980 eruption about explosive volcanic events than any previous event and the recovery information we're receiving from the blast zone is vital to so many areas of interest. This is a place that deserves park status if ever one does.

    When Lassen exploded in 1915, Congress moved to protect the area to ensure the public's interest. It's time we do the same for Mount St. Helens.

    If both NPS & USFS are strapped for cash, what difference is the transfer except that Mount St. Helens will receive the protection it deserves and stop the ravishing from commercial interests?

  • Should the NPS Be Given Mount St. Helens?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Are three visitor centers necessary?

  • Yosemite Falls All Dried Up   6 years 48 weeks ago

    The watershed that feeds Yosemite Creek is very small compared to the massive watersheds for Bridalveil Creek (which feeds Bridalveil Fall) and the Merced River (which feeds Vernal & Nevada Falls). Yosemite Creek's watershed is based around the southern slopes of Mount Hoffman which isn't far from Yosemite Valley. It is natural even in high water seasons for Yosemite Creek to dry up in fall. This year everything is about a month early, due to the low snowpack.

    Personally, I find the dry fall beautiful. Usually by November or so, Yosemite Creek begins to trickle again and through the winter falls softly, building a nice ice cone. The cycle is stunning and really beautiful to watch.

  • Interpretation on the Tallgrass Prairie   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I have to agree with Owen here. Not only has the quality of interpretation slipped, but the quantity of interpretation has seriously declined. Used to be a host of walks and evening programs and other programs to help one better understand the park and its history, geology, etc. Now they're hard to find and now the few that are offered are often the same programs as last year and the year before.

    And of even further concern, in my opinion, is the way some of the parks (Yosemite's on my mind here) have really turned interpretation over to the concession. Delaware North does a big portion of evening programs and even nature walks in the park and this seems to me not to really be in the park's or the visitors' interests. The concessions are, after all, a profit-motivated business and if you don't think that the programs include a lot of info on where to get the best pizza rather than where to find the best glacial polish, you aren't paying attention. It bothers me that the NPS is so neglected by federal funders that we are left with turning over interpretation to private interests.

    I do have to say, I've been impressed by the interpretation brought to Yosemite recently by the Sierra Club at LeConte Memorial and by Yosemite Association. But there's no substitute for the ranger naturalist.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I have to admit, I'm a real sucker for Roosevelt Lodge at Yellowstone and for White Wolf tent cabins in Yosemite. They are to me reminiscent of the old-fashioned park experience with a touch of civilization attached. I love waking in the mornings to the cool morning air, lighting up a fire in the wood stove... cup of coffee... I love the camaraderie of the lodge experience which both places afford. I also love the locations of these since they are both away from the main hubbub of these busy parks.

    To me, the Ahwahnee is a beautiful, architecturally-stunning, upscale experience that I would prefer were at the park's gates rather than smack dab in the middle of Yosemite Valley. It's too late to do anything about it now, but if everyone could evacuate the building and a rockslide could bury it, I wouldn't mourn too much.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Has anyone thought about posting the room rates for the 10 best lodges? I Googled the rates for the Ahwahnee Hotel, and here's what I found:

    Ahwahnee $408
    Ahwahnee Cottages $408
    Jr. Suites $499
    Suites $893
    Tressider Suite w/Library Parlor $984
    Additional Adult in same room $21/night
    Add. rollaway bed in same room $11/night

    These prices to not include tax, which is an addtional 10%. This means that a suite at the Ahwahnee will approach and exceed $1000.00 per night!

    I wonder how the other 9 "best" lodges compare in price?

  • Interpretation on the Tallgrass Prairie   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I would like to thank you for your thoughtful comments. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is indeed intriguing and worth the visit. I'd like it even more if there were bison grazing instead of cattle.

    My comments about the quality of interpretation during the bus tour of the preserve reflect my concern that there has been a gradual decline in the general quality of NPS interpretive/ educational services over the decades. Indeed, to his credit, this uniformed interpreter did not make up an answer for questions to which he did not know the answer. But, he made no attempt to follow-up, either. These were questions that I would consider to be of the frequently asked type. I'm positive that he's been confronted with variations of these questions many times before. My critique is not so much a reflection on the performance of a single person, but an indication of lower standards and expectations of local NPS management.

    In my travels, the best park interpreters and volunteers would first ask their colleagues for an answer to questions they could not address. Failing to find an immediate answer, they would request my home or e-mail address so that they could follow-up (provided that I was interested to get this information, and I ususally am).

    When I returned to my home in Oak Ridge, TN, I got online and visited the Tallgrass Prairie NPS web site. I communicated my questions and concerns to park staff via the e-mail address given on their "contact us" button, but to date there has been no response. Interestingly, when reviewing the preserve's web site, I did notice that they have a "Frequently Asked Questions" button, but when I clicked on it, only one single question came up ("where is all the tall grass?"). I expected more.

    Since I posted the original trip report, several individuals have written me with information about the Tallgrass Prairie carrying capacity for American bison. It seems that if properly fenced and maintained, the 10,861 acres of the TGP National Preserve is sufficient to sustain a population of serveral hundred grazing bison. That would indeed be a sight that would prompt a return visit.

  • Yosemite Falls All Dried Up   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Anon is right. Even after the record snowpack of the winter of 05/06, when the High Sierra Camps couldn't open until very late due to snow, Yosemite Falls was dry by Labor Day. And it was dry by late August the year before that. Nevada and Vernal Falls seem to run year round.

  • Yosemite Falls All Dried Up   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Any of you mountain climbers in need of a liquid rubberizing dip? Great for coating metal, plastic, rope ends Any ideas please pass them on to me.


    Mike Anderson

    Sad to see this picture, I was their back in the 70's We need to stop shipping our water out of the country! Remember to place a plastic Quart water filled container in your toilet tank. I have a gallon jug wedged in mine.

  • Yosemite Falls All Dried Up   6 years 48 weeks ago

    It dries up every year. Bridalveil usually doesn't though.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I'll be the first to admit that I have yet to visit, or will EVER visit the entire scope of facilities offered within the NPS. I also concede to the fact that all encompassing words and statements never live up to their billing. That said, and having no point of reference regarding LeConte, I will say that by the strict definition and personal experience the Yosemite sites don't quite qualify in the sense of the term "lodge". And to me the greatest difference is the fostering of community that evolved naturally at Phantom versus the somewhat uncomfortably "forced" nature that existed on my trek through Yosemite. To be sure, the location of certain regions within Glacier is quite demanding and remote enough to keep away the "casual tourists" to which I usually make it a point to avoid in my personal backcountry expeditions. And the chalet atmosphere does indeed lend itself to the kindred spirit. But to consider them a similar lodge is a bit of a stretch in my humble opinion. Maybe my issue is that after a week or so in the middle of nowhere, sometimes quite literally, almost ANY structure becomes highly appealing, even the Muav Cabin, so it's possible my perspective isn't the most objective on many of the NPS facilities. Phantom isn't opulent, by any stretch, but that's not high on my criteria or I obviously would have selected the El Tovar from the Grand Canyon facilities. I'm just saying that the effort expended to reap the "reward" of the lodge is the greatest draw for me personally. But this is just one of those debates that anyone can justify his/her opinion on with little dispute from the masses.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Oh, I wouldn't be so quick to say "no other lodge" in the park system can foster such camaraderie.

    There are the backcountry chalets in Glacier that would come close, I think, and LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains, of course. Both require some relatively significant hoofing it to find a berth. And in Glacier, you can rub elbows with your fellow hikers while making your own dinners in true collective fashion at the Granite Park Chalet.

    Others, no doubt, would point to the backcountry tent camps in Yosemite's high country. True, you don't cook your own meals, but you eat family style and so can regale your companions with park stories and foster community.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    So much for focusing on content. But since the author raises a new question, my personal hands-down choice is Phantom Ranch. Location, location, LOCATION!!! There are no "casual tourists" to be had in the bottom of the abyss, which enhances the level of camaraderie amongst kindred spirits, akin to a true brotherhood of a "lodge". No other facility in the NPS network is remotely (no pun intended) close to fostering that type of closeness among guests. Even the canteen visitors from Bright Angel campground become part of the overall family, albeit somewhat like a second cousin. For that matter, in spite of what you're thinking, those river-running folk, to some degree "casual" due to the lack of physical effort expended upon reaching the lodge, have a unique perspective on the facility after days (and nights) on the river. Before you ridicule me for taking them seriously as more than casual invaders of the inner sanctum, if you've yet to experience the length of the Colorado via watercraft, you are indeed missing the most unique adventure the Canyon had to offer. But I would still prefer the trans-canyon hike with a night (or two, off season) at the Ranch to any stay in ANY lodge.

  • National Park Service to Charge for Clean Air?   6 years 48 weeks ago


    Great question. I contacted the Park Service for the answer. Here's what I heard back -

    This survey was actually initiated in part to help the states in developing those visibility SIPs. Based on past data it's most likely that the visibility economic values elicited would comfortably outweigh the costs to industry (especially when you add in the economic health benefits from reduced emissions). This is why we are doing the study, because we're comfortable that we will get a high enough value.

    The study is not going to be done in time for the "1st round" of visibility SIPs, which are due by the end of 2007, but most states won't have them in until 2008. The SIPs are to be reviewed at 5-yr intervals, so our data could be available for the next round.

    I hope that helps answer your question.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    OK, new question: If you had the opportunity to spend the night in any lodge within the entire park system tonight, which one would you choose, and why?

  • Back in the Saddle   6 years 48 weeks ago

    i have visited the west 7 times since 1981, and a visit would be incomplete without a stay at Paradise, even if it rains during the whole stay.
    steve anderson, ex Wa resident(three years in Renton)

  • Judge Tosses Surprise Canyon Lawsuit   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Earthjustice can kiss my butt, they are just a bunch of lawyer parasites--NOT environmentalists--who make their living by trying to deny use of public lands to the taxpayers who OWN them.

    Surprise Canyon isn't pristine wilderness, it's a historical site that was altered for mining purposes over 100 years ago and should still be accessible by road as it was intended to be long before NPS encroached upon it.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    The larger issue here is that concessionaires should be, in some people's view, returning more money back to the park from which they profit. Lodges run by XYZ company in parks are important, because there are better things for NPS to worry about than changing your sheets. However, XYZ company could (and should) be doing a better job of giving back to the park where it does business. Staying or not staying at a lodge isn't going to change anything. Only if we elect politicians who will change the status quo will the problem be solved.

    And I would hardly say that Mr. Sullivan "condoned" park lodges in his original post. He did not endorse any lodge inside the parks...only the list of lodges and one "near" Oympic.

    President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
    Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens

  • Interpretation on the Tallgrass Prairie   6 years 48 weeks ago

    geeez.... i bet that you, as a former interpreter, would know one of the best things to say when you don't know the answer is "i don't know." kudos to the ranger for his honesty rather than making something up like a lot of interpreters do. additionally, one of the jobs of an interpreter is to get people excited about something so they go on to learn more themselves. what's that tilden quote about spark something.... i can't remember. but the fact that you were left with questions, rather than a bored yawn, is good, don't you think? i mean, you did google it, you did get more responses so his answer, rather than a lie that stopped your inquisition there, instigated more thought and research?

    it's not that i don't agree with you in some regard, perhaps someone should know the story behind the area's name. however, you spent an awful lot of time analyzing one individual and one set of expertise that clearly comes from something else (grazing and ranching) and perhaps had more to offer based on his experience. not all interpreters know every subject in detail. i think your research may have been more fruitful asking the park administration (easy nps reformers anti-gov types, this isn't a door to get all trollish, OK?) about the time the interpreter's supervisor has to do training, tour audits, asking for training materials, etc. and then give grades (perhaps) there rather than on an individual. i dunno.

    the symphony thing sounds great. i would pay to see that. man and nature aren't separate and it's not like our national parks are always this pristine chapel of untouched nature as pop culture has misrepresented.

    as i've wanted to visit this area for a long time, my vote is for another post, expanding on what you did, what you saw and what we should do if we were to visit. this place is intriguing.

  • Judge Tosses Surprise Canyon Lawsuit   6 years 48 weeks ago

    My Father and Uncle drove to Panamint City in the late thirties. Their mode of transportation was a a 1932 Chevrolet. No granny gear, no 4x4. They saw Panamint City before it was stripped of machinery to support the war effort. I heard this story often and went there myself in 1969. The road was washed out but I made it as far as Chris Wicht's camp by motorcycle and hiked the remaing distance, most of it on good condition two-track. I returned several times over the years while the county was maintainingm the road. These times using two and four wheel drive pick-ups. One time in 71 one I met a couple in their Corvette in Panamint City. Since that time our gonerment has seen fit to extend the the boundaries of Death Valley National Park far beyond the Valley itself. Panamint City and Surprize Canyon are NOT in Death Valley! The last time I visited was in 2004. I was amazed at the amount of recent vintage machinery in and around the City. In the history of America this area has been a mining area. All appearances are that it still is, even if only of historical interest. That is what draws me to it. But I'm getting old and the hike is not appreciated when most of it is over a perfectly good road. The drivel I read from those who applaud the permanent closure of Surprize Canyon leads me to believe that they have never been there and have no interest in it other than as an outlet for their misdirected energy.

  • 10 Best Lodges in the National Parks   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I find it ironic that you've got something critical to say about nearly every article posted on this site

    Jeremy, I'm sorry you feel that way. However, during the last two weeks, I've only commented on 6 of the 21 articles on NPT, and that's far from "nearly every"; most of my comments, while they do involve critical analysis and offer a different view point, are not critiques of the articles themselves, but of the issues they cover.

    Matt, I'm not sure what Xanterra's giving to the NPS now, but I'd guess it's a very small percentage. Before Xanterra assumed control of the Crater Lake Lodge, the concession returned 3% of their profits to the park, but for a number of years the contract was expired and the concession gave no money to Crater Lake.

    My observation was not about the hierarchical value judgment of individual lodges. I was wondering why NPT, which often prints stories on the "plight of the parks", condones private profit from federally funded lodges (with the vast majority of those profits leaving the park) when parks are (supposedly) strapped for cash and could address budget shortfalls with a larger share of the profits? So in that way, it was related to the topic, but I'll leave the conversation to those who prefer to rank the taxpayer-funded, monopoly-controlled lodges in national parks.

    Reform the National Park Service!

  • Interpretation on the Tallgrass Prairie   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Typically in the area of Kansas where the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is located, the requirement for support of year-round Bison grazing is between 8-10 acres per animal, although the estimates vary depending upon rainfall and subsequent plant conditions. There are also widely varied opions regarding the fencing required to keep bison contained, as well as the requirements for interior fencing that would allow managed grazing. I have a small bison ranch approximately 45 miles northwest of the Preserve and have been successful with a 9 wire 6 foot tall fence. For additional information about Bison in Kansas and in the US, I would recommend contacting the Kansas Buffalo Association (, as well as the National Bison Assocation ( I am a member of both organizations and one of the many functions of both organizations is to provide further education about the Bison.
    I also was a part of the Symphony on the Prairie (I sing with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus) when it was held at the preserve and I can tell you that it brought a number of people out to the Preserve that would otherwise have never come there. It was amazing to me to listen to the comments of the 'city dwellers' that had no idea there was anyplace like that in Kansas. There were many that were absolutely amazed at the vastness they experienced compared to what they are normally accustomed to. This is indeed going to be an annual event, but it is not held in the same location each year so that should help to limit the impact on the Preserve itself, yet still raise awareness among those that normally would not be exposed to the true beauty and grandeur of the native tallgrass prairie occuring in Kansas.
    I am very pleased to see this article about the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve here, and to see that you took the time to visit it while in the state of Kansas!!