Judging from last year’s head count in the National Park System—a record 307.2 million—you can pretty much be assured that many parks will be even more crowded this summer as the National Park Service Centennial is celebrated.
Some stories, whether focused on travel or a specific issue, deserve a longer treatment.
Less than two years after an oyster-farming operation was shut down in Point Reyes National Seashore following a dispute that was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, three environmental groups are challenging the National Park Service over the planned renewal of leases to cattle-ranching and dairy operations that have existed on the coastal California peninsula for 150 years.
Given all the superlatives of Point Reyes National Seashore, it’s amazing that exotic animals (cattle) that damage the landscape are permitted to continue grazing in a national park unit where native species and natural ecological processes are supposed to be given priority.
Early on a March morning, about 75 bison grazed peacefully inside a fenced enclosure at the Stephens Creek bison operations facility in Yellowstone National Park, unaware that their final journey was about to begin.
A soaring new 3D IMAX film premiered recently, showcasing the wonders of national parks from Katmai in Alaska to Everglades in Florida. Narrated by none less than Academy Award® -winner Robert Redford, the film was created by the National Park Service and Brand USA in honor of the Park Service’s 100th anniversary and is airing here and in 60 countries around the globe. Intended to showcase the best of our nation, the film falls woefully short as critics have pointed out, because it features only athletic, young white Americans recreating in pretty places.
Of all the national park units we have visited, none provide a more pleasant experience than driving the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Vistas through North Carolina and Virginia aren’t as spectacular as those along Rocky Mountain’s Trail Ridge Road, Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road, or Yosemite’s Tioga Road. However, for a pleasant drive that lasts several days rather than several hours, the Blue Ridge Parkway is without peer.
The view eastward from Point Loma, at just 422 feet above the Pacific, encompasses San Diego Bay, the city skyline, and the low silhouette of the Laguna Mountains against a brilliant sky. To the west, the surf pounds rocky cliffs and the steely-blue ocean stretches to the horizon. In 1542, Spanish conquistador Juan Cabrillo, the first “tourist,” gazed across the scenic landscape from this same viewpoint.
Famous naturalist John Muir said, “The Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea) is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and . . . the greatest of living things. . . . No description can give any adequate idea of their singular majesty, much less their beauty.”
There’s no better town situated for fun, outdoor adventure, and national parks than Moab, Utah. In fact, it’s the gateway for both Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
The late Robin W. Winks, as Randolph W. Townsend, Jr., Professor of History at Yale University, was fond of pointing out that the National Park Service manages a university like no other. Undoubtedly he would be repeating that lecture today, especially since Jonathan Jarvis has been called on the carpet for writing a book without “permission.”
Building support, and revenues, for the National Park System can not be done as simply as designating a unit in the system.
With the countdown to the National Park Service’s centennial this August down to fewer than 180 days, anticipation is building, reservations are filling, and crowds are filing into the National Park System. Last year marked the second year in a row of record national park visitation, with more than 307 million visitors exploring the park system, this year almost certainly will stretch that run to three years.
Both still waters and those running fast and at times furious are plentiful across the National Park System, offering seemingly endless options for where to dip your paddle. You can drift across the reflection of the Tetons on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, savor some of the West’s best whitewater in Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah, or retrace the path of Major John Wesley Powell’s boats with a modern-day adventure down the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah.
“If everyone knew just how beautiful it is, everyone would be out here,” my 64-year-old mother, Jacque, declared as she gently and gracefully stroked the muddy Colorado River with her kayak paddle. “Just think, we’ll get to see amazing sights only a few people have—or ever will—see on this adventure,” I responded with a smile from my 14-foot inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard.
Imagine a place in Southern California without freeways, a place without strip malls, smog, or freeway-clogging traffic. Then, imagine a necklace of grassy islands where eagles soar and foxes run, where abandoned olive groves and ripening figs attract ravens. Imagine crystal-blue ocean waters, where the golden Garibaldi swims through swaying kelp forests beneath wave-battered sea caves, undisturbed by cargo ships and oil platforms.
When a single F-35 fighter for the Air Force -- just one -- costs in the neighborhood of $100 million, and when the helmet for the pilot of that fighter costs $400,000, is it too much to ask for better funding for America's greatest idea?
We had come to Canyonlands National Park from North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Missouri, Utah, and California, determined to spend six leisurely days floating the Green and Colorado rivers through one of the most remote, rugged, and majestic regions of the continental United States. Paleontology was not on our itinerary, but geologic history lay in every direction here in southeastern Utah.
I’ve never surfed a day in my life despite the many vacations on the Jersey shore. So, maybe you’ll understand why I’m at a loss for words about the first time I saw a Stand Up Paddleboard in action. What was that contraption? And, why paddle a SUP when you can run rivers and cross lakes with canoes, kayaks, and rafts?
When Albert Johnson had his villa built in Grapevine Canyon in what is now Death Valley National Park, floods likely were not factored into the design. Nevertheless, the Mission Revival-influenced "castle" held up remarkably well during the torrential rains and flooding of last October. The same, however, cannot be said of the infrastructure surrounding the 32,000-square-foot mansion.
Millions of visitors flock to Yellowstone National Park each year to see its steaming geysers, iridescent pools and carved, rugged landscape. For the last five years, Jim Gardner, Kenny Befus and a team of undergraduate students from the Jackson School of Geosciences have been among them.