Happy birthday, National Park Service

The National Park Service marks 100 years this week. One hundred years of preserving our amazing natural resources. One hundred years of educating people on our great outdoors. One hundred years of giving joy to the millions of people from all over the world who visit the parks each year.

It’s a good deal when the one having the birthday gives the gifts, though that’s what the National Parks are. A gift. To celebrate this anniversary, here are pictures from my recent visits.

Bryce CanyonUtah boasts a multitude of striking natural landscapes. Wind carves away earth to reveal the tall, skinny spires of rock called Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Canyon Lands UtahLooking down on Canyon Lands National Park, Utah, one gets the impression a dinosaur left its footprint.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TennesseeA mama black bear and her two cubs meandered in front of our car at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Acadia National Park, MaineAcadia National Park, Maine, offers rugged Atlantic Ocean views and tasty crab rolls in local restaurants.

Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaThe Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, provided beautiful vistas, hiking, and a whole lot of wind. I’m not posing so much as trying to control my hair.

Glacier National Park, MontanaGlacier National Park, Montana, in June? Maybe not the best choice. Snow clogged mountain roads while rains closed valley roads, keeping us indoors much of the time. Cloaked in mist and clouds, the mountains were still beautiful. And we did spot both a bear and a moose.

Death Valley National Park, CaliforniaWater should not have been a problem in Death Valley National Park, California, but a record-breaking rain of 1/4 inch the day before we arrived flooded the valley. This impressed on me better than any ranger talk that Death Valley has no river outlet. Rain sheets off the mountains and accumulates on the floor with nowhere to go.

Badlands National Park, South DakotaStriations in the hills of the Badlands, speak to millennia of geologic history. The first time I visited the Badlands – 40 years ago – I thought this must be what the moon surface looks like. At that time, there was no visible greenery. Since then, invasive plants moved in and patches of green are everywhere.

White Sands National Monument

Though White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, is designated a monument, not a park, it’s one of the most visually stunning places I’ve visited in the past few years. Wind moves the dunes a few inches every day, often covering the roads, which have to be plowed to enable traffic to move. The white sand created a visual/mental disconnect for me since I visited there in February when we still had snow in Iowa. It didn’t help to see other visitors snowboard and sledding down the dunes.

Since the National Park Service was established, it’s grown from the one park – Yellowstone National Park – to include over 450 parks, monuments, parkways, historic sites, and seashores. Whenever and wherever I travel these days, I check to see if there’s a national park or monument along the way. They’re always worth the time.

Are you visiting the National Parks? If you haven’t, I hope these pictures whet your appetite. If you have, which have you enjoyed the most? Please leave a note. Then go have a piece of birthday cake.

A memoir told in geology

Bryce Canyon, Utah, Hoodoos

Bryce Canyon, Utah, Hoodoos

A drive through the southwest United States invariably inspires my interest in geology. The seismic power of uplifts reveals sheer walls of stone. The layers of red, white, green rock tell of eons of floods, the arrival of shell fish, the retreat of water. The progress of the earth’s development is stripped bare and we see both pain and beauty in this brilliant and honest memoir.

In the past few days, I’ve visited the canyons of southern Utah, where wind and water have created some of the most amazing land formations one is likely to see on earth. Even the pictures I’d seen hadn’t prepared me for the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

Hoodoos are columns of weathered rock shaped by the wind and rain over thousands of years. Layers of softer and harder sedimentary rock cause the erosion to shape the spires into infinitely varied shapes limited only by your imagination. You might see Abraham Lincoln, Medieval castles, Cleopatra on her throne, or Casper the Friendly Ghost. An overlook called Inspiration Point provided a view of thousands of hoodoos in tight formation reminding me of the soldiers in the famous Terracotta Army in China.

The alluvial fan on the left is beginning to birth new hoodoos.

The alluvial fan on the left is beginning to birth new hoodoos.

A park ranger shared pictures of some of the hoodoos taken 60 years ago and pictures of those same hoodoos taken in the past year. Erosion has taken its toll. Eventually the spires will be too weak to support themselves and they’ll crumple to dust. The erosion is steady and significant. The rim of the canyon erodes at the rate of 1 to 4 feet each 100 years.

This made me a little sad, as reading memoirs sometimes does. What would be here for future generations, I wondered.  The ranger offered hope. As the erosion continues, new hoodoos emerge out of the alluvial fans.  If you look closely at the left side of the picture, you can see it happening. Today’s hoodoo soldiers will fade away to be replaced by the new recruits of the future.