Thank heaven for the NPS

As I write, I’m sitting on a picnic table overlooking the Olympic Mountains.  Tough gig but somebody’s got to do it. No organisation does majesty and grandeur better than the National Park Service (NPS).

Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge

So far I’ve visited nine, all out west: Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde, Arches, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mt Rainier, and Olympic. Each has its own characteristics and features, but what they have in common are preservation, protection and presentation of some of America’s grandest money shots. I’ve been really lucky with the weather, so the images are spectacular – both on my mind and on film (or iPhone).

Taggart Lake, Grand Tetons

One of my better planning decisions was to get a NPS Lifetime Senior Pass, so easy access and no cost after the minimal up-front investment. Ok, access sometimes needs planned, and I have come a cropper in neglecting to either get tickets or book entry. A lovely family from WI came to my rescue at Mesa Verde and offered me one of their tickets to visit the Cliff Palace – in return, I’ve promised never again to trash talk the Packers. And at Glacier, two lovely women from Malaysia, Suew In and Chai Wei, gave me a lift as I hitched up to Logan Pass – and I ended up spending the day with them touring, hiking, sightseeing and taking pictures.

With Julia, David and Lee from WI on way to Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde NP
Chai Wei and Suew In from Malaysia who gave me a lift to Logan Pass, Glacier NP

The majesty of the scenery in national parks is built into the land, but the NPS has done a great job as its custodian.  After the foresight of establishing the parks – thank Theodore Roosevelt and Scotsman John Muir (laterally criticised for racist views) – there have been three phases of their development. First, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s left a legacy of buildings, trails, and roads that we enjoy a century later. Then post-WW2, the NPS undertook a programme of infrastructure development to cater for increasing use of the car – sympathetically designed buildings that they called ‘NPS Modern’, in contrast to the earlier rustic design. 

NPS Modern infrastructure at Logan Pass, Glacier

And today, much greater focus on the environment – for instance, Glacier could do with a re-name. When I first visited in 1967, I distinctly remember glaciers – not today. So along with upkeep of the public realm – roads, buildings, facilities – the NPS is taking a lead in environmental preservation and protection.

Everyone I’ve come across has been passionate about their role and mission, from Natalie, a ranger on Glacier’s Logan Pass, to Larry, a volunteer at Mt Rainier’s Tipsoo Lake. There is much more effective presentation of the role and contribution of Native Americans in the western parks – I’ll be interested to see how the legacy of slavery and succession are presented back east in the Civil War battlefields.

Larry Volunteering at Tipsoo Lake, Mt Rainier NP
Park ranger, Natalie, on Highline Trail, Glacier NP

The parks, of course, have their retail therapy opportunities, so I’ve decided to collect a badge from each, and to sew onto my old USFS vest when I return home.

Ubiquitous NPS sign

Finally, a few other observations:

  • I haven’t seen one selfie stick! Ok, this may be due to the profile of tourists, as the Chinese tourists we saw in Switzerland used them as a third arm
  • Speaking of tourists, the kids playing license plate bingo always want to visit a park; I’ve logged Alaska, which is one of the harder ones to get 
  • Tourists are looking relatively fit, particularly given America’s problem with obesity (same in UK); this may be due to the self-selecting nature of those who visits parks, and the wish to do more than look over the edge of something like the Grand Canyon, and observe, “Yep, a big sucker”

So many more parks to go, and more value to come from my Lifetime Senior Pass.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone NP
North Window, Arches NP
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2 Responses

  1. Hi John,
    Am loving your blogs and photos. The rear view of the Subaru – covered in stickers )Is that even legal?!!) – reminds me of a friend who was in New York. He held his phone out of the cab window for me to hear the cacophony of vehicle horns blasting away. All the vehicles he could see, large, small, commercial and private – bore stickers that said “Hoot if you’ve had sex with Bill” (Clinton days. ‘Natch).
    Keep on keeping on. Stay safe. Fascinating reading and magnificent views.

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