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!

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.

On the Road

Porterhouse, baby!

San Francisco, Yosemite, Mono Lake, Death Valley, and Las Vegas. Those were the highlights and low points of our whirl wind tour through the Wild West with 26 Dutch tourists and a trailer in tow.

What do we do on our night off in Vegas? Sleep!

Well, not exactly. There was a $70 Porterhouse and a couple of serious margaritas involved to soothe the pain from our babysitting job.
San Francisco was fantastic. The best Chinese food at the house of Nanking, thank you Peter. The best Dim Sum at Tom Kiang, some Russian Pastry, and a great World Cup final.

Yosemite is a zoo. This is not a park. Ban all private traffic and commerce in the Valley. Enough said.

Mono Lake surprised us with a spectacular thunder storm. Wish you were here, if you know what I mean…

Then we roasted at the furnace of Death Valley. It was 48C. Dry heat, though. It melted off the sole of one of our passengers.

Finally Vegas, baby. Tolerable only with blood alcohol levels exceeding the legal limit.

On with the show…