It was just a dusting, but when the first snow of the season fell in the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park in August, it was an alert to begin the transition to a new season.
Some stories, whether focused on travel or a specific issue, deserve a longer treatment.
Otherworldly. The spires, buttes, and indescribable angles on badlands formations that rose inexplicably out of the flat plains caught my attention, but it was the weather that felt otherworldly. All night long winds shook my tent as I shivered in a 0° sleeping bag covered by a 30° sleeping bag. Despite the sub-zero temps, by noon the thermometer in my car read 50°. Fifty wasn’t what I was expecting for winter temperatures in Badlands National Park.
What role did the nation's rail industry play in the national park movement? Dr. Alfred Runte, in response to those who believe it was minimal, maintains the railroads not only helped substantially push the movement along, but opened the Western landscape to many who might not otherwise have seen it.
“El Niño.” Those two Spanish words summon both joy and concern. Joy because it means more moisture, preferably in the form of snow for California, the Southwest, and the southern Rocky Mountains. They raise concern because it could also mean another unseasonably warm and dry winter for the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies.
Stepping out at of my car at the overlook of Lake St. Mary in Glacier National Park, I expect to smell the invigorating aroma of a spruce-fir forest. Instead I smell ashes. The conifer forest is no more, and won’t be again in my lifetime, or my children’s.
Few of us with roots in the 1960s can imagine the world of environmental writing without Michael Frome. Actually, it was my mother who first discovered his articles following our trip west in 1959. From our home in Binghamton, New York, she had driven my brother August and me 10,000 miles, visiting national parks the entire way. After spending three days each at Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon, we thought we had seen it all. It little occurred to us, jockeying among the crowds of other auto “campers,” that an even greater, untouched wilderness lay beyond the pullouts, roads, and parking lots. That discovery awaited the writings of Michael Frome.
Alfred Runte, in his article Stephen Mather’s Ghost: Revisiting the Consensus for National Parks, published 6 September 2015 by National Parks Traveler, takes issue with the prevailing narrative that Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, was (mostly) responsible for the 1916 origin of the NPS. Instead, Dr. Runte attributes an important role for railroads in the origin of certain national parks and of the NPS.
Kalaloch lies right along the Pacific Coast in the southwestern corner of Olympic National Park about halfway between the Hoh and Quinault rain forests. It is certainly the most heavily used camp area in the entire park. Reservations are a must if you want to camp there in summer. Even though I went to work online with Recreation.gov about four months before I planned to visit, there were only a few sites available. Fortunately, I was able to latch on to one of them.
I went for a float last week. Six glorious, sun-drenched days down the Green and Colorado rivers through Canyonlands National Park in Utah. No cellphones, keyboards, motors, or engines, just some R&R with a group of fellow park travelers mixed with some field testing of the National Park System.
In my career as a caretaker of America’s national parks – including years spent as the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park – I have been honored with the duty to follow the fundamental principle of using sound science and balanced policies to guide decisions affecting these lands that are owned by all Americans.
I met a charming lady while standing atop what’s left of Glines Canyon Dam – a dam recently removed from Elwha River in Olympic National Park. Sharon Francis and her son were there with a girl who I guess is probably her granddaughter. I offered to take a photo of all three of them together and that led to the discovery that I was talking to the woman who had been Stewart Udall’s speechwriter.
The motorboat pulls away and disappears across Ross Lake, leaving us in a silence as expansive as the wilderness surrounding us. We shoulder our backpacks and hike up the Big Beaver Trail through a forest drunk on photosynthesis. Ancient cedar and Douglas fir trees rise taller than it seems our necks can tilt backward to view them. We pass red cedars as thick as 15 feet at their base—trees that germinated a millennium ago, around the time that Leif Erikson sailed the East Coast of North America. True to the trail’s name, we pass sprawling beaver ponds.
Visitors come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for many reasons. They want to hike the more than 70 miles of the rugged Appalachian Trail that meander through the park, to camp in its dense forests, to cool off in one of its many streams, or to take a leisurely drive along the scenic Newfound Gap Road that crosses the heart of the park to connect Tennessee with North Carolina. Regardless of the reason, they come—in droves. Every year, 8-10 million people travel to the Smokies, making it the most-visited national park in the country.
Imagine: An open road, the top rolled back, the windows down, pastoral views drifting by, with your favorite tunes streaming from your stereo. Once the Greatest Generation refocused on home life after World War II, they were able to, “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” Highways and byways meant relaxation, recreation, all with a backdrop of roadside nostalgia.
Fall in the Rocky Mountain parks isn’t quite as colorful as the season is back East, as they lack the endless acres of hardwood forests. But the high peaks, sometimes dusted in snow, make up for that. Watch the aspens, larch, scrub oak and maples paint the landscape with masterful strokes.
As wondrous and mesmerizing as slot canyons in southern Utah and northern Arizona can be, they can be even more deadly, as last week's tragedy at Zion National Park underscores.
Imagine a place in Southern California without freeways; a place without strip malls, smog, and millions of people. Imagine an ocean where the golden fish, the Garibaldi, is prolific with hundreds of other species in an underwater forest of kelp beneath wave-battered sea caves. Imagine a place that is still California as it once was, a century ago, with adobe ranch houses, sweeping vistas of cliffs and beach, mountains and valleys, grasslands and cypress groves, and unbelievable quiet.
I had completely forgotten that Skagway is home to a unit of Klondike Gold Rush before I got off the Alaska Marine Highway ferry M.V. Columbia at the pier in Skagway, Alaska. But there it was right on Main Street – a big Arrowhead outside a large old building labeled Visitor Center.
There are national park units long-accepted for their fall colors, and then there are the surprising destinations that brighten up the landscape. Here are a handful of them for your consideration.