Monthly Archives: April 2016

National parks, suffering again, need outrage and action

“I’ve seen the insides of a lot of national parks. I don’t just mean the good stuff: the herds of bison at Yellowstone making the ground tremble; the immense, lolling tongues of glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias; the goose-bump-raising room imbued with the spirits of Franklin and Jefferson where our republic began…” READ MORE of Heather Hansen’s recent guest commentary in the Denver Post.


Learn more about the amazing history of the NPS and U.S. conservation: Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo of Yellowstone bison, courtesy Neal Herbert, NPS.

Happy Birthday, John of the Mountains

April 21 marks the birthday of a guy who’s arguably the nation’s most famous tree hugger.

John Muir was a sheepherder, storyteller, fruit rancher, citizen scientist, tinkerer, philosopher, conservationist, and first-class wanderer.

He first saw what later became Yosemite National Park at age 29 or 30 in 1868 and, since then, the two have been inseparable. Muir fought for, and secured, Yosemite’s protection and agitated for the protection of other lands now part of the national park system.

The passion with which Muir experienced landscapes is still palpable, even these many years later. He described his initial look from above Yosemite Valley this way: “My first view of the High Sierra, first view looking down into Yosemite, the death song of Yosemite Creek, and its flight over the vast cliff, each one of these is of itself enough for a great life-long landscape fortune–a most memorable of days–enjoyment enough to kill if that were possible.”

Muir is remembered by most as a wise, avuncular figure with a long white beard and a poetic way of describing his environs. But I like to hold him in my mind’s eye as that adventurous young man, exploring wherever his legs could carry him, and expressing his sheer astonishment at what he saw and what it meant. Of those early days Muir later wrote that he’d had a “soul hunger.” He said, “I began to doubt whether I was fully born…I was on the world. But was I in it?”

Thanks to him, and many others, we too can experience utter awe in the places they devoted much of their lives to protecting.

Learn more about him at John Muir National Historical Site.

Learn more about Muir and other conservation titans in Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Free mountains, sequoias during National Park Week

Want a free mountain? How about a canyon for nothing?

Well these are your lucky days: National Park Week lasts through April 24–that’s 410 national park units from coast-to-coast (and more) completely free for visitors.

All week I’ve been thinking about the mountains, rivers and wildlife we have in my home state, Colorado. And the dinosaur bones, fossils and dunes. I’ve been playing hooky (at least in my mind); daydreaming about hiking in Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes national parks, and in the spectacular canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers in Dinosaur National Monument. So many reasons to get out there.

Need inspiration? FindYourPark.

Learn more about the NPS and its 100th birthday this year.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo of Rocky Mountain NP by Heather Hansen.

New park honors women’s struggle for equality

On the occasion of Equal Pay Day, the National Park Service has announced a new national monument: the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

From the NPS:

“Tucked behind the U.S. Capitol building is a 200-year-old house that stands as a testament to our nation’s continued struggle for equality. Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (NM) tells the compelling story of a community of women who dedicated their lives to the fight for women’s rights. The innovative tactics and strategies these women devised became the blueprint for women’s progress throughout the 20th century.

History of the House

Built on Capitol Hill in 1800, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM is among the oldest residential properties in Washington, D.C. The house was nearly destroyed by British forces during the War of 1812. In the 20th century, the house became the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, a political movement that fought for equal rights for women.

Robert Sewall, a member from one of Maryland’s most influential and prominent families, built the original house at 2nd Street and Constitution Avenue, NE in 1800. Sewall rented the house to Albert Gallatin from 1801 until 1813. Gallatin served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. During the War of 1812, the house was damaged and nearly destroyed by fire during the British invasion of Washington in August 1814. It was one of the only buildings from which the occupants made an attempt to resist the British army.

The Sewall family descendants owned the house for over 120 years. In 1922, Senator and Mrs. Porter Dale of Vermont purchased and rehabilitated the house after it had been vacant for a decade.

The Dales sold the house to the National Woman’s Party (NWP) to use as their headquarters in 1929. The NWP renamed the property the “Alva Belmont House” in honor of Alva Belmont, a benefactor of the NWP. Belmont donated thousands of dollars to women’s equality and gave the NWP the ability to purchase the new headquarters. The house also functioned as a hotel and second home for some members.

National Woman’s Party

Alice Paul founded the NWP in 1913 to address equality issues and women’s suffrage. Paul is one of the most significant figures in gaining women the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The NWP continued to fight to guarantee equal rights for women through gender equality in both the United Nations Charter and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The NWP remained in the house for over 90 years as a prominent presence on Capitol Hill. Tucked among federal office buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Capitol, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM, now stands as a memorial to the dedication of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party.”

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM.


It’s certainly possible to spend time in national parks without ever talking to a ranger (except maybe at the entrance gate). But why would you? National Park Service rangers are some of the most dedicated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet. Consider it part of your entrance fee to tap them for their diverse expertise and sheer entertainment value.

Tip #4. Go on a ranger-led activity.

Some of the most fun I had as a kid was at sunset ranger talks on the beach at Cape Cod National Seashore. We’d generally arrive early with that wonderful bone-weary feeling you get after a long day playing in the sand and sea. As Junior Rangers, we’d help collect driftwood for a campfire and then sit back while the ranger filled our heads with pictures of explorers and shipwrecks and stars.

The fun didn’t end then; as an adult I’m just as crazy about ranger-led walks and talks. Most recently at Independence National Historical Park, at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Seattle Unit), and in my backyard at Rocky Mountain National Park, my travels have been seriously enhanced by ranger knowledge.

So after using the restroom at the visitor center, in whatever your chosen park, stop by the information desk to ask about the day’s offerings (they are often posted online and in the park as well). You’ll be glad you did!

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo courtesy, NPS, a ranger and visitors to Joshua Tree National Park.

USPS putting their stamp(s) on national parks

Over the next few weeks the US Postal Service is offering a sneak peek at the 16 forever stamps (intended to represent the diversity of areas in the national park system) they’ll be releasing during this NPS centennial year.

Seen so far:

Everglades National Park, Florida (of grasses and pinelands)


Acadia National Park, Maine (of Bass Harbor Head Light)


Arches National Park, Utah (of Delicate Arch)


Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia (of wild horses)


Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico (of Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center)


Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico (of the caverns’ interior)



‘Kelp Cam’, cooler than you think

I already posted about spying on the eagles in Channel Islands National Park (check it out the eaglets are thriving!).

Alerted by a recent tweet from the Department of the Interior, I’ve added a new wildlife cam to my guilty pleasures: the Channel Islands Kelp Cam.

The live feed offers a visual tour of a giant kelp forest off Anacapa Island in Southern California. Keep an eye out for anemones, sea urchins, sponges and, of course, fish among the hypnosis-inducing swaying of the kelp. The National Park Service says passing lobsters, stingrays and sea lions also sometimes make an appearance!

Warning: this footage causes awe and relaxation.


Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service

Photo courtesy, NPS.