Car-free National Parks

“No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs–anything–but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.”

Edward Abbey

I know, this is not a popular proposal. But it’s worth a thought.  I am sitting out a snow storm in April, waiting for the storm to move out, so I can ride my bicycle into Yellowstone National Park. It is still winter up here. Nevertheless, the Park Service has opened the roads for bicyclists, two weeks before they open the roads to cars. That’s the one chance to experience the interior of the park on bike before the summer onslaught.

Unfortunately the road to Old Faithful is still closed, due to heavy bear activity. Apparently the grizzlies have come out of hibernation and are munging on bison that have succumbed in the thermal areas to winter starvation.

Later this year, millions of tourists will line the roads and observe wildlife from the safety of their cars. Some will get out and try to ride a bison or get a selfie with a bear cub…

Not the park Ed envisioned.



Mammoth Hot Springs – № 2

“You can always back up
and pick a new fork.”

Kary Mullis

What’s the connection between Kary Mullis and Yellowstone National Park, you ask?

Well, Thermus aquaticus, a thermophilic, chemotroph bacterium was discovered in Yellowstone National Park. A number of enzymes were identified in this organism that likes to grow in 70 °C warm water. Make that 70 °C hot water. One of the enzymes, Taq polymerase, was later used in a technique called PCR, which revolutionized molecular biology. PCR is the brainchild of Kary Mullis.

If you want to read more about Kary Mullis, beware! You might find some strange believes and come across extraterrestrials in the form of a green fluorescent raccoon.

Into the Wild

Mammoth Hot Springs

“The world’s big
and I want to have a good look at it
before it gets dark.”

John Muir

Great quote from a wise man. I am on the same page.

Mammoth Hot Springs is such a place that deserves a visit. Located close to the North entrance of Yellowstone National Park, accessible by a board walk, never the same. I plan on visiting this place a few more times this winter, as I imagine the contrast between snow, ice, steam, and hot water during the cold season is just out of this world.


Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and many other features of the park experience a break from the summer crowds. All roads inside the park, except the one from Gardiner to Cooke City, are closed to wheeled vehicles for the winter, and there is no riding with snow coaches or snow machines, yet. Currently, you could have Old Faithful all to yourself.

One Man's Paradise

Happy birthday!

“Only by going alone in silence,
without baggage,
can one truly

get into the heart of the wilderness.
All other travel is mere dust

and hotels and baggage and chatter.”

John Muir

Those are the words of John Muir, who was a loud and clear voice in the creation of the national park system in the United States. His travels in and writings about the wilderness of North America had an influence on many, including Theodore Roosevelt. Interestingly, John Muir was opposed to the government running the national park system, as he considered many politicians as being incompetent, to put it politely. He wanted the US Army to run the park system. John Muir died 2 years before the National Park Service was instituted by Congress in 1916.

Today we celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.

The Organic Act of 1916 states the mission and goal of the National Park Service, which is “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Many voices and powers have formed the NPS into its current shape. Already at it’s 75th birthday it was recognized that “…the Service faces challenges greater than at any time in its history. The parks, many buffered by rural or wilderness surroundings in years past, are increasingly besieged by development. What goes on outside their boundaries can affect their air, their water, their wildlife, their natural and historic ambience, as profoundly as what goes on within. Natural and cultural landmarks outside the parks face similar threats, prompting pressures to include them in the park system.”


Denali National Park, Alaska

 My feelings about the national parks are ambivalent. The idea to preserve wilderness and history for future generations is commendable. However, what we consider wilderness and how we access and manage wilderness is contentious. I am with Edward Abbey, who suggested parks with limited access by automobile. I know this is not a very popular proposition, but it is the only way to experience real wilderness, as described by John Muir. Thanks to their remoteness, size, and administration some parks in Alaska come very close to John Muir’s idea. Access to Denali, Wrangell-St.Elias, Glacier Bay, and other parks in the state is limited due to their remote location and their sheer size. Those are the places that appeal to me.

In the 80’s I spent many days and nights in Yosemite Valley. Above the valley floor it is strikingly beautiful, but I never understood, why we had 1-hour film processing and other unnecessary amenities in the valley. There was a time when private traffic was banned in the valley, which I thought was a great idea. Today, up to 21,000 visitors find their way into the valley on a peak day! Campsites are hard to get without advance reservation. The Park Service has the difficult task to balance conservation and visitation. In 1917 there were 11,000 visitors in the park all year!

I think it is worthwhile, especially on a day like this, to reflect on our views of wilderness and conservation. Do we really need to drive our vehicles into parks and expect to see wildlife and pristine landscapes from the comfort of our cars?

I think wilderness is something that cannot be experienced from a vehicle. It requires effort, sweat, patience, and time…

It is not available on demand.

It is an experience that you cannot buy.

It is priceless.

Without it our planet is a cold, dead place.

To the next 100 years!

On the Road



A new form of self portrait has emerged, the selfie. Hold your camera, smart phone or video camera at arm length in front of your nose, put the Grand Canyon or your favorite dive in the background, put on your Hollywood smile, hold for 5 seconds, release…

Sorry, couldn’t help, but I have seen so many selfie attempts in the last weeks, paired with noisy crowds, and a hectic schedule to visit as many National Parks in as little time as possible…

It is difficult to find a quiet moment in the prominent parks and reflect or simply take in the beauty that lies before your eyes. I wonder if Mather, Muir, and Roosevelt had this in mind, when they created the National Parks. Conservation for future generations was one of their main motivations. I wonder if this and future generations need to learn viewing and experiencing Nature anew.

Nature is not another “attraction”, where wildlife appears on schedule, where the temperatures are always comfortable.

I guided groups of tourists this summer. We stayed in commercial campgrounds with all the necessary amenities, even some unnecessary ones, such as WiFi… For some, it was the most “extreme” vacation, they had ever done in their life…

Some children were glued to their smart phone games, while traveling.

I tried.


Half Dome, Yosemite, CA
On the Road

Just do it!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Politics is not my cup of tea, but I ended up with a paperback about Teddy that a friend recommended to me. I am still in the Teddy’s boyhood days, when he was plagued by asthma and other ailments. Despite this, or in the face of this hardship he shaped his body from a spindly boy to a beefy adult following the advice of his father.

Teddy killed and boiled and skinned apparently lots of fauna as a child. This boy became a president who was instrumental in establishing National Parks. He spent a night with John Muir in Yosemite, which led to the creation of Yosemite National Park.

Reading a great article by Nevada Barr in the Sunset magazine on National Parks. I came upon the following quote: “Some days, we see nothing but pixels”. How true, and sad. She makes the point that watching documentaries on a screen is not the same as experiencing a hot day with mosquitoes, or a late afternoon thunderstorm in the mountains first hand. Get cold, get wet, get out! That’s her message and it is true.

I have not been a fan of National Parks, because I do not like their restrictions and limitations. I remember one evening in Yosemite, when I was pulled over by a Park Ranger for going faster than the 25 mile speed limit on the valley loop road. There was no traffic, no deer. There were also rumors that they used IR-vision and dogs to find climbers that were illegally camping at the base of some rock face, because Camp 4 was full, or too expensive.

Now I understand the rules. Many visitors flock to the Valley, possibly too many. National Parks are a great invention of the American culture. Visionaries like Roosevelt, Mather, Muir, Karstens were going at bat to conserve wild spaces for future generations.

They did what they could with their means, at their time.