Celebrate the Beauty of America
As John Muir wrote, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” But our national parks aren’t just about Mother Nature. They encompass art, history, poetry and more.
While taking many shapes and forms, National Park Service (NPS) is also a master of recycling and repurposing. For instance, Alcatraz Island, the former federal penitentiary, stages noteworthy art exhibitions. Also home to the first lighthouse and U.S.-built fort on the West Coast, “the Rock’s” gardens, tide pools, bird colonies and bay views add a natural element to this unique park.
Climate change is challenging the parks in “ways they’ve never seen before,” according the NPS.gov website. To our north, glaciers are retreating in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, which covers 3.3 million acres and is one of the world’s largest protected areas. In the Caribbean, coral reefs are dying as seawaters warm in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Closer to home, waste management and energy efficiency are on the parks’ “to do” lists.
Santa Monica Mountains National Reserve Recreational Area, near Los Angeles, along with 119 other national parks, is part of NPS’s nationwide “Climate Friendly Program,” with goals that include identifying and implementing mitigation actions to reduce emissions resulting from activities; increasing climate change education and outreach efforts and monitoring progress with respect to reducing emissions; and identifying areas for improvement.
Even national parks with a literary bent (Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and The John Muir and Eugene O’Neill National Historic sites) are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging staff carpooling and engaging in recycling and composting programs.
To honor the centennial, there’s a website, findyourpark.com, where you can share stories about (and support) your favorite national parks. When accessing the map, you may be surprised by the number of amazing locales, from Hawaii and Alaska and throughout the continent to the Caribbean. Channel your inner Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Moran, Galen Clark or Ansel Adams and share your park impressions and inspirations. If you are 62 or older, you can purchase a $10 Golden Pass, which allows lifetime entrance to all national parks, as well as 2,000 recreation sites managed by five federal agencies.
I’ve visited Yellowstone, whose geysers and Teton views linger fondly in my mind, along with awesome vistas and friendships forged over hikes in Glacier National Park and the Grand Canyon. I’ve yet to explore Joshua Tree’s otherworldly desert landscape, but it’s on my list, as well as saluting the 2,100-year-old General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park (one of 8,000 giant Sequoia trees) that stands 275’ tall and weighs in at 2.7 million pounds, dazzling and dwarfing humans and animal alike.
I recently made a first-time pilgrimage to Yosemite, where nature, as well as the historic Ahwahnee Hotel that has been around since 1927, did not disappoint. The fabulous Sunday brunch was worth the wait. Man cannot live by nature alone, it appears.
I hope to return to Yosemite one day to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (closed while undergoing a $5.2-million, year-long restoration project) as I have a hankering to attend one of the annual Chef’s Holidays (noted chefs and vintners come from across the country) that takes place at The Ahwahnee every January.
Closer to home, our Channel Islands National Park, also known as the “Galapagos Islands of North America,” is definitely worth a closer look. Help blow out the 100 candles on the birthday cake of one of America’s finest assets while reciting your ode to a tree, stream, leaf, rock or even a piece of manmade art.
America the beautiful, indeed.
On August 25, National Park Service turns 100. Entrance fees will be waived that day at our nation’s 408 national parks, and there will be plenty of ways to party and celebrate in our own backyard, as well as across the U.S.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.