Not long after the Civil War, one-armed Union veteran John Wesley Powell was the very first European to explore the Grand Canyon, As a matter of fact, it was he who gave it that name. Legendary conservation pioneer President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument in 1908 and enthusiastically advocated for keeping it pristine when he said, “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it.”
Thanks to COVID, travel these days has become a bit unusual. While U.S. domestic travel has largely returned to full bore freedom, masks notwithstanding, (non-emergency) journeying to many other countries is still almost non-existent. I have been itching to go to the Swiss Alps and Argentine Patagonia for going on two years now with no significant apparent loosening of restrictions in sight.
Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches, Monument Valley. The names alone bring glorious and exciting images to mind. They’ve been published and printed for many decades. The classic shots of Half Dome, Old Faithful, Delicate Arch, and the Mittens; we’ve seen them all. Yet we continue to make pilgrimages to these scenic meccas of America in the hope of capturing the quintessential photograph of some already over exposed mountain or canyon that will distinguish our work from the pack; some fresh perspective that will set our images apart from the cliché.
Is this still possible? With all of the iconic photographs of our premier wilderness areas that have been made and circulated since the days of William Henry Jackson and Ansel Adams pioneered the craft, can we, with our hi-tech zillion megapixel cameras and the compressed schedules of our fast-lane lifestyles, persist in the creation of original interpretations of these well-known places? Clearly, the answer is still “Yes!”
While our National Parks, the crown jewels of federal lands, often receive the lion’s share of our attention, the wonderful creature sanctuaries known as National Wildlife Refuges provide an immeasurable benefit to wildlife in these days of ever-expanding development. This human expansion inevitably results in ever shrinking habitat and more and more pressure on the wild creatures who rely upon that habitat.
America’s 63rd and newest national park was created earlier this year when the Congressional resolution authorizing it was buried deep in the text of legislation intended to address financial issues related to the COVID pandemic. Not one to look a gift horse in the proverbial mouth, I am just grateful that these 73,000 scenic acres have been awarded the nation’s highest level of protection. Just 10% of this territory is included in the actual national park. The remaining 65,000 acres make up a national preserve. So, what makes this area special?
As the virulent pandemic that has crippled our society for over a year recedes and the country and the world begin to open up again, our thoughts turn back to traveling. With the summer season now upon us, potential destinations include our 63 fabulous National Parks. If you want to get a little off the well beaten path to overcrowded places like Yosemite and experience something a little different, try Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
We humans take ourselves far too seriously. Out of habit, we allow the minutiae of our daily lives to block our ability to see the big picture. That picture is one in which our species is but one of a multitude of creatures eking out a living on the crust of this still molten rock hurtling through space. Like it or not; choose to admit it or not, we are all interrelated to some degree. As for how these ruminations connect me to my role as a nature photographer? Hang in there. I’ll get to that.
This remote park is revered by backpackers and climbers, but often overlooked by most other folks, even though it’s just 120 miles from the Seattle metropolitan area. Covering more than 500,000 acres, North Cascades National Park includes its namesake mountains at the northern end of the Cascade chain, virgin forests, countless alpine lakes and meadows, glaciers and more than 360 miles of wilderness hiking trails. There are very few roads within the park, so most visitors travel east and west on State Route 20. Whether folks want to hike in remote wilderness, embark on a family-friendly road trip or camping vacation, North Cascades National Park is a remarkably underrated destination that shouldn’t be missed.
In these days of COVID-19 my bucket list is getting bigger, but my bucket is not. At the risk of being less than completely clear, allow me to explain. As time goes by, always far too quickly, I learn about more and more places on our little globe that I would like to visit, photograph and enjoy.
My list is now measurably longer than it was a year ago. Working against my ability – and that of all of us – to cross names off that list is the virtually worldwide lockdown as nations everywhere take a multitude of steps in an effort to minimize the spread of this scourge. Countries including as Argentina, Chile, Jordan and Switzerland are sitting on my yellowing list now rigidly frozen in gridlock.