Tag Archives: Yosemite

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.

7 tips for celebrating an epic year in parks – Tip #2

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

Celebrations are already in full swing for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. If you’re planning a park visit this year–and I strongly encourage it!–I’ve pulled together some pointers for how to get the most out of your adventure(s). The next installment:

Tip #2. Go off-peak. 

If you simply must see Yosemite this year (who could blame you?), aim for a month less-traveled. A large majority of visitors to Yosemite–and Yellowstone and Arches for that matter–go in June, July and August. There are lots of reasons that makes sense; the kids are on break, the weather is nice, all the concessions are open.

But traveling in the off-season, or even the shoulder season, has big rewards. The primary one, of course, is not being elbow-to-elbow with other park-goers. Last year in Yosemite, for example, the spring and fall brought fewer crowds (281,328 visitors in April and 357,223 in October versus more than 600,000 in both July and August).

Another perk is that parks have spectacular features to offer in “off” seasons–with decent winter snowfall in the high country, Yosemite Valley in springtime is a riot of waterfalls whereas, after a dry summer, they can peter out by August. In September in Yellowstone, visitors experience elk in their “rut,” or mating season, and wildlife in general become more visible as the drive to fatten up for the winter draws them out of seclusion.

A related tip:

Stay local. If summer is your prime vacation window, why not consider hitting the parks in your area? Lots of people are surprised to learn they have a national park unit in their backyards. Such as:

BOSTON. Within a couple of hours of Boston there are nearly two dozen national park units, including several of my favorites: the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site, a hidden jewel that gives national park lovers an extraordinary context for conservation in the U.S. Not to miss also is the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, of which luminary scientist E.O. Wilson says, “There are wildernesses at your feet.”

NEW YORK. Sure you’ve heard about the Statue of Liberty but what about the Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Harlem, dedicated to the controversial forefather who ascended from being an orphan to being Washington’s trusted advisor? New York has dozens of such fascinating parks celebrating the state’s phenomenal social, political, cultural and natural history. Ask me a thousand times which parks are my favorites and I’ll always include the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. It is simply one of the most goose bump-raising places on the planet.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Lincoln Memorial, check. Jefferson Memorial, check. But consider also the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. It has the most original artifacts on-site of any national park unit. The presence of that brilliant human rights leader still lingers here. If I lived near there I swear I’d be a ‘regular’.



Photo of the African Burial Ground courtesy of the NPS.

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

Half the Park is after Dark!

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

The sky’s the limit at these national parks known for stellar stargazing…

When I was in Big Bend last year one of the park’s most remarkable features came into focus only after the sun went down—the stars. When the sky darkened it seemed as if someone had hit a celestial light switch as a glowing dome formed overhead. Barely an inch of the heavens seemed untouched by gleaming pinpricks.

Big Bend is one the country’s seven ‘dark sky’ national parks which “are vital to the protection of wilderness character, fundamental to the historical and cultural context and critical for park wildlife,” says the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Dark Skies Division. Not only do nocturnal animals rely on darkness for survival but the circadian rhythms of plants, and of humans as well, require an unaltered night sky.

Due to light pollution in urban and suburban areas most people see, at most, a few hundred stars in a cloudless night sky. Dark Sky parks may boast upwards of 5,000 stars. As population centers expand so does artificial light disruption making these spots all the more rare and important.

Here are the nation’s officially designated “Dark Sky Parks” with links to find out more about each:

Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico.

Death Valley National Park, Arizona. (At 3.4 million acres, the largest International Dark Sky Park)

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona.

Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado and Utah.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. (The first International Dark Sky Park, designated in 2007)


Many other national parks host “star parties” and night sky viewing programs. Here are a bunch with links to their programs:

Acadia National Park, Maine

Arches National Park, Utah

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (Night skies are threatened here due to hydraulic fracturing operations pressing up against the borders of the park.)

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

Denali National Park, Alaska

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, California

Yosemite National Park, California

Artist Tyler Nordgren created this amazing poster for his “See the Milky Way” campaign:


In its manifesto for a second century of greatness, one of goals of the NPS is to protect that forgotten natural resource—darkness—and to restore “starry nights” by managing ambient light within parks and in bordering communities. One big step in that direction was the creation of the America’s first Dark Sky Cooperative on the Colorado Plateau, in collaboration with several partner organizations.

Apparently, in the dark, there is still so much to see.




NPS photo of Dinosaur NM by Dan Duriscoe.



A once-in-a-century appearance

The rare, stunning Sierra Nevada red fox was spotted in Yosemite recently. The last time the elusive creature was seen there was during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency.

Read the story.

Learn more about Yosemite, a national park celebrating its 125th birthday this year.

Support the National Park Service.

Photo courtesy NPS.