Fierce Montana wind
blowing over snow-capped peaks
brings me home at last.
It’s day twelve of the government shutdown, and the country has settled into a tired routine. Much of the shutdown discussion seems to have taken on a tone of resignation or half-hearted complaint, as the public watches while efforts at bipartisan talks collapse. Despite this trend towards passivity from sidelined Americans, there has been a lot of venom out there—some of it terribly misdirected.
I have been appalled at the extent of the vitriol and misinformation that’s floating around, especially regarding the role of the National Park Service in the closure of its 401 units around the country. Sites ranging from the Liberty Bell to Yosemite have been barricaded to visitors. Understandably, people are upset about being shut out of America’s most special places. For many travelers, a big national parks vacation is the trip of a lifetime: a pilgrimage to places of tremendous natural beauty and historic significance, planned for months or even years in advance. Being turned away at the gate is hurtful and costly. Read more
One good thing about the shutdown: it’s given me the time and mental space to do some writing, for the first time in a long time.
I started this blog in June of 2012. I updated it regularly until February, when a number of life events coincided to make writing well-nigh impossible. When I went on furlough (my scheduled furlough, that is) in August, I had lots of quality time in the backcountry. I did lots of journaling and vowed to take up writing again. I then came back to work at the beginning of September, and did a whole lot of … not writing. Read more
October can be a wonderful time for national park visits. The crowds and heat of summer have faded, and the colors of autumn brighten the landscape. Sadly, this year’s government shutdown has closed all 401 national park sites around the country. How long the shutdown will last is a great unknown. So what do you do if you pull up to the gate of a national park on your long-planned vacation, only to find the way is barred?
There are no substitutes for our national parks. They are set aside and protected as national parks for a reason: these lands are of national or international significance. But knowing that doesn’t help much if you’re in your rental car on your vacation, trying to figure out where you should go when your plan has been foiled. Here are a few ideas for alternative destinations. Read more
Okay, so it’s probably becoming obvious that I love bats. In recent posts I’ve talked about white-nose syndrome (WNS), a deadly fungal infection that’s devastating American bat populations. I just donated to FightWNS.org, ordering a super-cool WNS awareness ribbon with bat wings (left). I urge you to find ways to help bats in your own community. Read more
Less than one month ago, I posted a story about white-nose syndrome killing bats in Mammoth Cave National Park. Today, more bad news came from another national park site, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where white-nose has just been documented for the first time.
I contacted Katie Gillies, the imperiled species coordinator at Bat Conservation International, to ask what can be done to combat the spread of white-nose.
"There is an extensive amount of research being conducted on several fronts right now," she told me. "A few years ago, the fungus didn’t even have a name, and today the full genome has been mapped, sensitive molecular tools to detect it have been developed, and we understand the histology of the fungal invasion and believe we understand the proximate and ultimate causes of death."
Work for one day in the visitor center at Badlands National Park, and someone is sure to ask, “Why is it called that?” The term “badlands” is a translation from the Lakota “mako sica” and the French fur traders’ “les mauvaises terres à traverser”—which is to say, “bad lands to travel across.” The rugged terrain is part of the problem, of course, as is the harsh climate. Winters can see the mercury plummet to well below zero, while summer temperatures can reach triple digits (in Fahrenheit, of course). Winds over fifty miles per hour can occur at any time of year, and the starkness of the prairie affords little shelter from the gusts.
But I often think that the lack of potable water in the badlands is what really made this area earn its name. Read more
Sad news today from Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, where Superintendent Sarah Craighead confirmed the death of a northern long-eared bat from white-nose syndrome, a deadly infection that affects bats that hibernate in colonies. It is named for the frosty white fungal growths that appear on the muzzles of sick bats.
Ah, mid-January: time to start fantasizing about summer backpacking trips! This year, I’m planning a long road trip with several stops for hiking and backpacking at some of the prettiest parks in the western U.S. and Canada. Explore the map below to learn more about what promises to be a dream vacation.
Whee! Can’t wait!