Standing in the presence of the unbelievably immense, monolithic slabs of stone in Zion National Park is an experience that is not soon forgotten and, I’d argue, even spiritual. Gaze up at those massive sandstone cliffs as you hike The Narrows and you’d swear you’ve entered an alien world where 2,000-foot-high gods of rock rule. If you’re brave enough, you can even trek on the shoulders of those gods, by walking on the aptly named Angels Landing Trail. And since 84 percent of the park is designated as wilderness, there are scores of other spots where you can commune with nature and find solitude.
But now imagine that you’re in Zion walking that precipitous pathway — with sheer drop-offs on both sides — and a drone buzzes close by your head. Not only does that distract you and make you feel unsafe, it suddenly changes your great outdoor and unplugged experience.
Similar scenarios in our national parks have caused some of them — including Zion National Park — to ban drone use. While some applaud the move, others feel that their preferred way to photograph the parks is being unfairly singled out and prohibited. But is attaching a camera to a drone truly similar to other forms of photography?
Our national parks are our soul-restoring places; the spots we run to when we need to escape the constant clatter of civilization. They are where we go to see the last vestiges of wild America. And each of our national parks seems to have at least one iconic image that lives in our consciousness, whether we’ve actually seen it in person or not: landmarks such as El Capitan in Yosemite, the bubbling hot springs in Yellowstone, or the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.
Now picture yourself standing on the rim of one of our national parks’ stunning canyons, looking out on nature’s beauty. You’re awed and inspired by the scene in front of you, until your eyes begin to register a structure that doesn’t seem to belong. Then you suddenly recognize what it is: a huge trophy home, with windows from floor to ceiling and a wraparound deck.
That could never happen, right? It could, and it almost did last month in one of our most treasured natural spaces.
When one of America’s best-known and finest actors, Marlon Brando, bought his own private island in 1966, people generally wrote the news off as just another eccentric act by the rich. Until his death in July 2004 at the age of 80, Brando “owned” Tetiaroa, a 2.5-square-mile atoll in the South Pacific, 37 miles north of Tahiti. (He obtained a 99-year lease to it from the French Polynesian government.)
Brando was a nature purist and hoped Tetiaroa would be part environmental laboratory — mostly for sea turtles — and part modest eco-resort. In a will he signed in 1982, he put Tetiaroa in a trust so it could be preserved for posterity. “If I have my way,” he once wrote in a memoir, “Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of who they are and what they were centuries ago.” His wish was to keep the island from becoming overly developed and in as natural a state as possible.
The street you live on, your neighbor’s garage or even your own back porch probably has one: a light that goes on when it gets dark. Most likely, it was installed with the hope that it would make your neighborhood a safer place to live.
The conventional wisdom is that better outdoor lighting deters criminals — those who would do their dastardly deeds in the cover of darkness. But whether or not the facts bear that out, we do know that lighting up the night eradicates something else: the ability to see the stars in the night sky.
There are many Native American stories regarding the stunning red, orange and white hoodoos in Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park. The Paiute Indians call the park Unka-timpe-wa-wince-pockich — which means “red rocks standing like men in a bowl-shaped canyon.” According to one of their myths, a long time ago a group of people moved into the area and made Coyote angry with their bad behavior. Coyote put a curse on the people, turning them to stone. The canyon’s hoodoos are these Legend People.
National parks need to be killed.
It’s a shocking idea I came across recently. Ken Burns’s newest PBS series aside, they’re doing more harm than good to our places of natural grandeur and dwindling native eco-systems.
“Glamping” is camping in high style. ©Wilderness Safaris.
There used to be two opposite ends on the travel-comfort continuum: Starting on the left, there were those who didn’t mind camping out in the backcountry. And at the far right terminus were those who preferred a private cabin on a luxury cruise, complete with a bed dressed in Egyptian cotton sheets and a down blanket. Never, it seemed, would the two types of traveler meet. The new trend of “glamping,” however, has changed all that.
A few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement in a magazine that read, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” In this recession, I have been doing a lot more thinking about whether my purchases will really enrich my life, how much I really need a thing or experience I pine for, and whether I’m getting the most “bang” for every buck I spend. For instance, will my purchase also be earth-friendly, community-friendly, or serving some cause (such as wildlife preservation)?
Summer in Yellowstone National Park
When one of my editors for whom I write “The Virtuous Traveler,” my column on sustainable travel, asked me to visit Yellowstone National Park this past January, I was — how shall I say? — less than enthused. Surely, I suggested, they needed a story on Tahiti? Kenya? Lebanon?