In celebration of our national parks

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

In celebration of our national parks“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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As we approach the 103rd anniversary of the establishment of our National Park Service, I’ve been thinking of how fortunate we are for those who took deliberate steps to protect and maintain our access to areas of spectacular natural beauty, unique geological features and rare ecosystems.

For those of us living in the Indian Wells Valley, several of these are within a few hours drive — including Death Valley (116 miles), Joshua Tree (170 miles), Sequoia (206 miles) and Yosemite (211 miles).

By the way, my go-to response to people who say we live in the middle of nowhere is to point out that we live in the middle of everywhere … although I suppose it depends in part on what you want to be close to. For me, there is nothing better than getting lost in the great outdoors.

At this point I’ve published countless retellings of family adventures in our nearby outdoor escapes. It’s difficult to get sick of our nearby landmarks and impossible to run out of places to explore. We are particularly lucky to have mountains, lakes, deserts, valleys, creeks, rivers, canyons and petroglyphs to choose from.

But on this anniversary, instead of zeroing in on any one particular destination, I want to reflect instead on how these spaces inspired the establishment of our national park system.

In 1872 President Ulysses Grant set aside Yellowstone Valley as the site of the first — now one of 59 (not including monuments and memorials) — of our parks protected, operated and maintained as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

But it was the California wilderness that played a critical role in the development of this federal system. One of the most revered advocates of natural preservation was John Muir — an immigrant from Scotland who studied botany and geology at the University of Wisconsin. His promising professional career was cut short when he was temporarily blinded in a factory accident.

During his attempt to recover his health, he traveled across our country in a series of backcountry adventures. One of these stops brought him to Yosemite Valley, which he found in 1869. His discoveries informed his philosophy that man was fundamentally connected to — not the master of — the natural world. Thus began his endeavor to “preach the gospel of nature” through widely published articles that ultimately made him famous.

In what would become perhaps the most successful lobby in conservation history, Muir spent three days camping in Yosemite Valley with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Roosevelt himself suffered from poor health as a youth, and was relegated to an academic study of natural history as a boy. In his adult life, he developed a love of the outdoors that may have influenced his decision — following his meeting of the minds with Muir — to establish five national parks in the landmark Antiquities Act, which also created provisions for other monuments, forests and wildlife sanctuaries.

Yosemite was the first California wilderness to be taken into federal protection when the NPS was finally established in 1916. Today, California has more national parks than any other state in the union.

Living in the midst of this sandbox is also beneficial to our local businesses. Travelers on their way to Yosemite or Death Valley or any of the countless places in between stop here to eat, sleep, fuel up and otherwise drop cash into our closed economy.

But as one of our hoteliers recently told me, “People who have lived in the middle of this all their lives have no idea how lucky they are.” It reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman from England. I kept grilling her for information on all the placed I wanted to visit if I ever made it across the pond. She looked sort of bored, or maybe tired, at the prospect of taking the trouble to get to any of those places, and responded that “only tourists do those things.”

That was more than 20 years ago. While I may not have understood at the time that we probably have the same dismissive propensities here, I’ve tried to make myself see our surroundings with fresh eyes whenever I go outside.

Since taking up the habit, I’ve never been disappointed in what I’ve found.

Pictured: President “Teddy” Roosevelt and John Muir at their historic Yosemite meeting — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2019-08-23