Thursday, September 20, 2012

America the Beautiful


I'm totally smitten with US National Parks. On our last two vacations, Robyn and I have explored:

- Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
- Zion Canyon National Park, UT
- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
- Glacier National Park, MT
- Yellowstone National Park, WY

Glacier National Park

There's so many incredible scenes, geological features, and wildlife in the national parks it's stunning; you feel transported through time.

Old Faithful.

I'm halfway through a documentary series called National Parks: America's Best Idea, produced by Ken Burns. He dives into the history and modern-day challenges the parks face over 6- 2-hour episodes.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The history is incredible enough. In the late 1800s, industry was driving America's development, and it was moving at a whirlwind pace. Forests were being cleared for timber and grain fields, valleys were being dammed for drinking water and power, and known national wonders (like Niagara Falls) were bastardized and turned into horrible tourist traps. It was the foresight of a few dedicated conservationalists who pioneered the idea that some places are so beautiful that they must be preserved for future generations, at all costs.

Mud bubble caught mid-burst at Yellowstone

It was hard at first. After the US Congress established the first national park (Yellowstone), they didn't set aside any funds for it - the logic was that trees didn't need money to grow. Growing numbers of visitors were taking their toll on the parks, and three different brances of the army claimed some responsibility for "guarding" the parks. But as an increasing number of visitors was taking their toll on a growing number of parks, the National Park Service was created to protect and manage those resources.

Close-up of bacteria mat in a sulfur pool in Yellowstone

Knowing the history makes you appreciate the parks so much more. For instance, without a National Park designation, Yellowstone and others would have devolved into an ugly, casino-filled tourist trap much like Niagara Falls is today. Without the efforts of an EXTREMELY small number of dedicated humans, we simply wouldn't have publicly-accessibly nature spaces to enjoy! The land would be lost to development or gobbled up by wealthy individuals.

y helo thar! Bison at Yellowstone.

I hope I get to see many more parks, both American and Canadian. They're just special places that I feel like I need to experience.