Filmmaker Ken Burns called the National Parks, “America’s Best Idea.” I don’t know if I’d go that far. See: cheeseburgers and basketball. They’re still a wonderful idea. In honor of the National Parks 100th birthday on August 25, 2016, here are some of my favorite photos and locations from exploring the parks. They have shaped who I am as a person and environmental professional. Growing up and going to school in the eastern U.S., I was in awe of the photos of the majestic National Parks in the western U.S. I wanted to see these huge landscapes and get lost in the mountains and deserts. I’ve been able to do just that over the past 20 years.
I appreciate the natural beauty, the unique settings, and the geology, which can be simplistic and complex. Also as important is an understanding of the balance of the politics behind it all: conservation, access to the public, wildlife management, education, entertainment, recreation. It’s a delicate balance.
The National Parks are great because you can get out and experience some of the best nature spectacles in our country without being completely remote. Some people will complain about traffic, crowds, and tourists. They have a point. But as a science communicator I’d rather provide ease of access to parts of the parks than no access at all. That access to the general public, and the summer tourist season, hopefully breeds an appreciation of conservation.
Some of my visits were the touristy drive-through type. Others I took the time to make sure I got lost. Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, and Stephen Mather for kicking off this great idea. Here are some of my favorite locations and photos from over 20 years exploring these parks.