Friday, August 26, 2016

Yellowstone and the National Park Service Centennial

Yesterday, Thursday, August 25, the National Park Service celebrated 100 years, acknowledging their past achievements, but their main focus today is about the future. For the second century of stewardship, future generations will still be able to take part in America's scenic beauty and so long as policies remain in effect, the best Mother Nature offers will remain preserved for future generations. Most importantly, nature provides strength for both body and soul. It was author John Muir who once said, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

Hoping to avoid the crowds, a few weeks ago my wife and I went to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Devil's Tower. There was a thrilling experience and relaxing peace of mind from nature and wildlife, exploring local history and culture. (At least twice a year I unplug for a full week -- usually to finish a book project without the internet or phone interrupting me every ten minutes. This trip was meant to accomplish the same.) In Yellowstone we saw bear, ram, deer, elk, coyote, gazelle and buffalo among a large number of wildlife that roamed free.

Yellowstone contains 2.2 million acres of preserved wildlife and mankind has left no more than one percent of his fingerprint in the National Forest in the form of roads, parking lots, lodges, etc. Preservation in the park was at the utmost. When a road is no longer needed, it is deliberately torn up so nature can take over where man once traveled. Oddly, most people never venture off the man-made trails so the Park Service estimates no more than three percent of the tourists that come to Yellowstone every year venture into the actual forest itself.

The park is suffering from a number of complications, however. Tourism is at an all-time high and conservationists debate how large foot traffic has to be before damage is made. Polls were taken this year with various questions to find a potential solution. There may be some changes in Yellowstone in the coming years, but all in the need for preservation. 

At Devil's Tower, we saw mountain climbers taking the challenge. It seems 4,000 people every year climb Devil's Tower (with permits from the U.S. Government, of course) and while this is legal, some debate whether it is unethical. As a result of wholesale mountain climbing, chunks of rock have fallen off the tower over the years and anyone with an I.Q. higher than room temperature can compare a 40-year-old photograph to the monument as it stands today and see that damage is evident. Mother Nature side-stepped the Tower for millions of years and we've only needed 40 years to create the damage that wind and rain respected. Local American Indians still insist the Tower is a religious ground and like their ancestors before them, travel from far distances to pray and leave behind their tokens. The U.S. Government has asked mountain climbers to refrain from climbing the mountain during the month of June, in observance, but this is merely a request and there are a small percentage of mountain climbers who insist they have the right -- and the permit -- to climb the mountain in June... and they do.

Mt. Rushmore was a beauty to behold. The geek in me was pleased to see a signpost along the road indicating where scenes for Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest was filmed, but the observatory itself where Eva Marie Saint shoots Cary Grant has been torn down and replaced with a more grand monument for tourists. My wife and I went to Rushmore at five in the morning to watch a sunrise and get the best photograph. Oddly, tourism really starts pouring in at Mt. Rushmore around 7:00 a.m. so if you can visit the monument at 5:00 or 5:30, make an effort to do so. (Parking fees start around 7:00 a.m., wink, wink.)

As for Yellowstone, I was surprised how many people go there just for the wildlife and not the natural canvas of scenery. When we stopped once at a pull-over to take a picture of a beautiful view and relax for a few minutes and take in the scenery, someone pulled up and asked what we saw. "A beautiful view," I told them. 

Disappointed because we saw no animals, they rolled up their window and drove off. 

The park is not easily accessible during the winter months and the higher elevation ensures the majority of the tourism from late May to early October. Even in August it was 37 degrees in the evening and 81 degrees in the afternoon. Humidity was practically non-existent. I was also surprised to discover how many people visit the park and do not understand the concept of a "get-away." One man checked into the lodge and asked the receptionist where the rec room was. The receptionist pointed to the trails outside. He asked where the pool was and she mentioned there was a waterfall two miles down the road. Cell phone towers is almost non-existent and visitors to the park complained about this but people should not be visiting Yellowstone for a few days just to look at their smart phones. The best time to visit Yellowstone, I was told, is during the month of June. Tourism is low and animals are most abundant in June. Take time to talk to the Forest Rangers. They have stories, know the legends and lore, and can fill you in with trivial bullet points that add to the enjoyment of the parks. So many took photos of animals and drove off as if their visit was a safari... so few stopped to take their shoes off and connect with Mother Earth. But then again, my wife and I enriched our vacation by focusing on the natural canvas and sounds of nature... who are we to educate or instruct others how to enjoy their vacation. The photograph below is my favorite and now a permanent desktop image. Worth the 300 steps down a path that was both intimidating and along a steep cliff. Ah.... the spirit of adventure.  

Enjoy the photographs enclosed and for anyone hoping to read a movie review, news about a new book being published or OTR documentation, I will return the blog back to the regularly schedule programming next week.


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