Coming soon to book dealers is a hefty new guide to the national parks -- the 58 "national parks" -- that strives to go a step further than the texts offered by publishers such as Fodor's, Frommers, and Falcon Guides.
Tipping the scales at nearly three pounds, Your Guide To The National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 58 National Parks was crafted by Michael Joseph Oswald, whose intention was to evolve the usual approach to leading readers through national parks.
Though he holds degrees in engineering and chemistry, Mr. Oswald put that career track on hold to instead explore the National Park System, something he took two years to do.
It’s always great to see a guidebook produced from outside the usual list of big house publishers. With the number of guides they churn out, those publishers turn to a cookie cutter approach of sorts that their authors must follow. A little personalization can be inserted into those guidelines, but not a lot as editorial templates guide the writers.
With Your Guide To The National Parks, Mr. Oswald has followed his own lead in crafting the text. For instance, in the chapter on Glacier National Park, he introduces you to the park through George Bird Grinnell who “came to northwestern Montana on a hunting expedition; he found a land so beautiful and majestic that he named it ‘the Crown of the Continent. More than 100 glaciers capped the mountains’ rugged peaks. Turquoise lakes dotted the high country. Green forests spread out as far as his eye could see. It was a land completely unspoiled by human hands. Grinnell returned again and again.”
The narrative goes on to explain how Grinnell wound up working with the Great Northern Railway to push his vision for a national park across the landscape, and broadens the history to include the Blackfeet Indians, Stephen Mather, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The Yellowstone chapter, while duly noting the late 1800s expeditions that revealed the geothermal wonders to the public, also notes that Rufus Hatch, a principal in the Yellowstone Improvement Co. formed in the late 1800s, put dollars over protections: "trash was discarded in streams and fumaroles, tourists were charged exorbitant amounts, animals were killed for food, trees were chopped for construction, and coal was mined from park land."
Park chapters are lead out geographically, which is helpful if your vacation is focused on one part of the country. And they overflow with helpful information for the parks traveler. Mr. Oswald has done yeoman’s work with some of the reader service materials, ie. lists of lodgings, restaurants, nearby attractions, even festivals you might want to know of when you’re planning your park vacation.
Each park chapter provides a rundown on best activities in the specific park, campground information, fees, transportation information (airports and train connections, if available), best time of year to visit, and expansive park maps with highlights pointed out to help you figure out a plan of attack.
The chapters also provide the author’s favorite picks for top attractions, best activities (Red Jammer tours in Glacier, for example), and his favorite hikes. And there are more details sections on various activities, from hiking and horseback riding to backpacking and fishing. Charts provide helpful, at-a-glance information on hiking trails, camping, and lodging. And Mr. Oswald provides his suggestions for what definitely to see when you visit, and how many days to plan on.
There also are a handful of pages up front where he shares his thoughts on such topics as worst parks for bugs (Everglades, Alaska's national parks, Isle Royale among others), backcountry “cabins” (some are de facto lodges) you can use in places such as Great Smoky Mountains (LeConte Lodge), Grand Canyon (Phantom Ranch), and Haleakala (the Holua, Kapalaua and Paliku cabins) national parks, parks worst for traffic, those best for couples (Virgin Islands, Acadia and Mount Rainier are just three), and best in winter.
Park chapters also contain small sidebars on some aspect of the park in question. In the Saguaro National Park chapter, for example, there’s a sidebar on the natural history of saguaro cacti, while the chapter on Petrified Forest offers a “recipe” for petrified wood (“let sit for several centuries” is a key ingredient).
In addition to the approach Mr. Oswald takes with his coverage, this book is unusual for several other reasons: It’s four-color and features gorgeous photos from the parks in question. And it was printed in the United States, a shocker in this day and age when most guidebooks seem to be printed overseas.
In short, this a great, almost encyclopedic, guide to help you prepare for your park visits.