Sunday, May 1, 2016
There's No Place Like This: Celebrating 100 Years of America's Best Idea
It's something that you hear once in awhile in a crowd of people seeing Yosemite Falls for the first time. You'll hear it from people seeing a geyser explode from the ground in Yellowstone, or gaping at the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. There are other places where you won't hear those words, because you won't be standing in a crowd of people. It might be while standing in a grove of 4,000 year old Bristlecone Pines at Great Basin National Park, or in an isolated slot canyon cut through the Navajo Sandstone in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, or watching California Condors from a windswept ridge in Pinnacles National Park. You won't hear it, but you will think it. Because there is no place like this, our national heritage of parks and monuments in the United States. It was our best idea as a nation, the idea of saving in perpetuity the unique landscapes that are like no other place on Earth.
One can argue the particulars, but the idea of a national park began here, in 1864. The valley was discovered by Europeans in 1851, and the reported wonders of the place caused Abraham Lincoln to cede the valley to the state of California with the proviso that it be protected for all time. In 1876, the first official national park was established at Yellowstone, while Sequoia and Yosemite followed in 1890. The 1906 National Antiquities Act gave the president the authority to establish national monuments without the approval of Congress, and in 1916, a government agency, the National Park Service, was established to administer the growing numbers of parks and monuments. The Park Service is celebrating their centennial this year.
If you have not made a habit of exploring the lands of our national heritage, I hope you will make it a priority in your life. Your life will be richer for it. If circumstances dictate that you can't spend time in these special places, I hope you will read about them, or watch wonderful documentaries (start with Ken Burns' series The National Parks: America's Best Idea). You could even read geology blogs about such places! It's like learning our country's history; you can't stand with our soldiers at Valley Forge or Gettysburg, you can't step onto the Moon along with Neil Armstrong, and you couldn't march with Martin Luther King, but you can learn from all these historical events, and make better decisions for our country's future.
Make no mistake. Our lands our still under assault. There is an ongoing effort to build a tramway to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and a huge new city on the South Rim of the same park. There are plans to mine uranium just a short distance from the park boundary. There are people who believe that our national heritage lands should be turned over to the states for private development such as at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Thankfully the worst of them are in jail right now, but there are many more such people out there. Maybe worst of all, there are politicians in Congress bought and paid for who are trying to make these things happen.
And there are vandals. A story has made the rounds this week of several despicable individuals by the name of Staten and Andersen who left massive carvings in one of the most beautiful arches in Arches National Park. One might as well spray-paint Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, and carve your name on the Last Supper. Once defiled, these precious places can never be the same, and the vandals have stolen something from all of us.