Think

This Land is YOUR Land

Visit a National Park this Summer to Celebrate Your Citizenship & the Glory of the Great Outdoors

By Jaq Greenspon

You ever have a dream so realistic you wake up and you find it hard to believe it didn’t actually happen? Or maybe a nightmare? I had both recently, in one extended nocturnal journey.

It started out pleasantly enough – I was in the past, wandering on horseback through pristine nature. In that way dream logic works, I knew the land I was on would become, at some point in the future, a National Park. It would go through the whole process of getting congressional approval to be set aside and protected for future generations, the way national parks had done almost since the first one, Yellowstone, had been set aside by President Ulysses S. Grant. Sure, President Lincoln had kinda started the ball rolling by getting congress to place Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War, but it was Yellowstone which marked the true start of something big.

And since this was a dream, naturally, I knew everything about the history of the parks, as if my subconscious mind was connected to the Internet and I was able to look up all the facts and figures. I somehow knew the National Park Service was founded in 1916, after a millionaire industrialist named Stephen Mather had, a year earlier, decided the parks would be his personal crusade and legacy – and in fact, he was named the first head of the NPS when it was instituted, operating under the over-arching idea that the parks should be “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” 

Then, as it does in dreams, the geography changed and I was walking through a national monument, which is often conflated with being a national park but there are some differences – namely that whole “being approved by congress” thing for parks while monuments usually come about by presidential decree. There are also differences in what you’ll see – a park has scenic or recreational or even educational value while a monument, well that’s exactly what you think it is – it protects areas of historic, cultural or even scientific value. Parks have to have a variety of items of interest and today, must cover more than 2500 acres while a monument only needs one significant item to qualify.

Suddenly, my dream shifted and I was no longer surrounded by uninterrupted idyllic vistas or the tranquility of historically significant places – The vistas were still there, as were the ruins and forts and artifacts of the past, but now, instead of being in beautiful surroundings, they themselves were surrounded by oil derricks and natural gas reserve tanks. There were mining operations and general shabbiness and it was the thought of them no longer being “unimpaired” which finally woke me up.

Because here’s the thing: I like my national parks and monuments. I like that they are there, set aside by every president since the first Roosevelt, to make sure the generations coming down the line will have them. I like being able to get into my car and take a road trip anywhere in the contiguous 48 states, to visit the 417 national park sites, to wander through the more than 84 million acres (yes, Alaska, Hawaii and various territories all have national parks, but they’re much harder to get to by car). And now they’re being threatened. Last year, the national parks had a record number of visitors (third year in a row, mind you) and yet the money earmarked for upkeep and staffing hasn’t been increased in a while and now, the new budget out of Washington has those funds shrinking even more.

Then last March, the order was given to “review” monuments which were created by presidential decree since 1996 and larger than 100,000 acres. According to a Fusion.com article, Ryan Zinke, the Interior Secretary, is to “review the rules which regulate oil and gas drilling in national parks and to repeal, suspend, or rescind them if they are found inconsistent with the president’s energy goals.”

And while there are actually several parks with active oil and gas wells in existence currently, the laws on the books now make sure they are designed to have as little environmental impact as possible (and when the well runs dry, the owners have to return the land to its previous state). Thing is, this has pretty much been a non-starter for the past 40 years because, as Athan Manuel, Director of the Land’s Protection Program for the Sierra Club in Washington, said, “…amongst Democrats and Republicans there’s a consensus that we shouldn’t drill in our national parks.” Until now, when we have an “administration … so incredibly pro-fossil fuels, pro-coal, pro-gas, they’ll even consider endangering our most special places.”

So there I was, laying in bed, sweat beading on my forehead and wondering what I could about it. Sure, Secretary Zinke may not change anything, this is just a review after all, but then again, his record ain’t great. That’s when it came to me: I need to get out and take advantage of those parks and monuments while we still have them. I need to make sure I’m part of the growing number of people who are flocking annually to see the great sights the country has to offer.

I’m gonna buy an “America the Beautiful” annual pass and get me a “Passport to Your National Parks” and start collecting cancellations and stamps. And I’m gonna start right near home. Luckily, there are several National Parks and monuments within a day’s drive of Las Vegas. Come on… who’s with me? Because really, this land is YOUR land!

Almost all national parks are open year round (weather permitting) with an entrance fee (valid for 7 days) ranging from up to $15 for individuals/bicycles to $25 for motorcycles and $30 for cars. Annual passes are also available per park (varies) or for the entire national park system ($80 with discounts for seniors and free for active duty military and the disabled). You can keep up with what’s happening in YOUR national parks by following them on social media. The National Park Service is represented on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as /nationalparkservice and on Twitter as /natlparkservice.

 

Death Valley

Distance: 123-145 miles / 2 hours 10 minutes

Established: October 31, 1994

Area: 5219 sq mi

Known for: Scotty’s Castle (closed until 2019), Badwater Basin (Lowest point in the US), Dante’s View, Artist’s Drive.

Zion

Distance: 160 miles / 2 hours 30 minute

Established: November 19, 1919

Area: 229.1 sq mi

Known for: Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, Scenic hiking.

Grand Canyon

Distance: 270 miles / 4 hours

Established: February 26, 1919

Area: 1902 sq mi

Known for: Big hole in the ground, Mule trips, White water rafting.

Joshua Tree

Distance: 187-212 miles / 3 hours 20 minutes

Established: October 31, 1994

Area: 1235 sq mi

Known for: Skull Rock, Keys View, U2 album covers.

Bryce Canyon

Distance: 260 Miles / 3 hours 45 minutes

Established: February 25, 1928

Area:55.992 sq mi

Known for: Hoodoos, natural bridge rock formations.

Great Basin

Distance: 296 Miles / 4 hours 25 minutes

Established: October 27, 1986

Area: 120.58 sq mi

Known for: Lehman Cave, Bristlecone Pines.

Yosemite

Distance: 456 Miles / 6 hours 50 minutes

Established: October 1, 1890

Area: 1168.8 sq mi

Known for: Half dome, El Capitan, Ansel Adams photography.

Petrified Forest

Distance: 359 miles / 5 hours 10 minutes

Established: 1962

Area: 229.6 sq mi

Known for: Painted desert, Fossilized trees.

Arches

Distance: 434 Miles / 6 hours

Established: April 12, 1929

Area: 119.8 sq mi

Known for: 2000+ sandstone arches (including Delicate Arch and The Windows), Balanced rock.

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