Showing posts with label National Park Service. Show all posts
Showing posts with label National Park Service. Show all posts

November 24, 2012

What People Are Missing from this Story?

The view from the porch on a cove in Table Rock Lake.
M. and I are spending the long Thanksgiving weekend with her siblings and their spouses in a rented "chalet" on Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri—all imitation log siding, cathedral ceilings, stuffed animals (M. not too keen on them), and rustic lodge-themed art of the Hobby Lobby variety.

It's been all feasting and sleep, which is what we needed after the stressful last two weeks.

Yesterday she and I broke off from the group and hiked around in Table Rock State Park, adjacent to the big 1950s dam that created this impoundment with its 700-plus miles of shoreline. (Purposes: flood control on the White River, hydropower, recreation.)

Then we visited the Corps of Engineers visitor center at the dam. The historical exhibit began with the Osage and other Indian tribes . . . and then suddenly it was 1954. Nothing from the early 1800s until the 1950s.

Apparently the people living here then were just "dumb hillbillies" not worth memorializing except for a brief video appearance as victims in the Great Flood of 1927.

Assuming that eminent domain was employed to get the land that would be flooded, some people must have left their farms and businesses in sorrow, cursing the federal goverment.

Perhaps others took the money with delight and never looked back. Maybe others sold to private buyers for what seemed like a lot of money, while the buyer made much much more selling what would become prime lakeside building lots.

Whatever the stories are, the Corps of Engineers is not telling them.

There is a parallel with the National Park Service erasing history in Shenandoah National Park:
After all, the Blue Ridge dwellers were not only different from the mainstream of American society, but, according to one contemporary journalist, their existence in the dark hollows represented "about the limit of destitution at which human life could be sustained." Park promoters and government officials publicized the fact that "these people will be moved to more civilized regions of agriculture and industry." 
I suspect that the attitude of officialdom towards the Ozarks residents was much the same, but you will not find out at the Dewey Short Visitor Center.

February 29, 2012

"Re-Taking the Landscape"

In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona, tourists are escorted by armed rangers in to protect them against Mexican smugglers.
"The real problem we have with safety is drug dealing, not the people looking for work," [Interpretive ranger Ken] Hires said from a loudspeaker system at the front of the van. Three different border patrol agents riding ATVs raced by, waving. "What we are trying to do is retake this landscape so we can all be free to be out here," he added.

Twenty minutes later, the vans arrived at Quitobaquito, where two young men toting heavy M14 rifles were already waiting. The rangers arrived at the springs two hours earlier to scour the area and make sure no one was hiding.
The Park Service does not want the area re-made to favor security issues. On other other hand, it has to be kept secure to protect both legitimate visitors and the ecosystem.

November 10, 2011

September 21, 2011

Revew: The Last Season--When a Park Ranger Goes Missing


In the summer of 1996, an experienced backcountry ranger went missing.

Ranger Randy Morgenson was in his early fifties. He had grown up hiking and climbing at Yosemite National Park, where his father worked for The Yosemite Park & Curry Co., the park concessionaire. He was also an expert cross-country skier.

He had studied public-lands recreation management in college, served in the Peace Corps, married, and worked many seasons at Yosemite and Sequoia & King's Canyon National Parks.

He loved the wilderness and respected its power in an almost animistic way. He was the kind of man who would seriously consider whether a tree wanted its picture to be taken. He hated to hear anything in the natural world described as a "resource." He even preferred to say "treeline" rather than "timberline" because "timber" sounded too much like a "resource."

At the same time, he was known as courteous and helpful to visitors, even when confronting their destructive behavior. He had participated unflinchingly in search-and-rescue and body-recovery missions. Everyone looked up to him.

But backcountry rangers are like the adjunct professors who teach more than half all all university classes.. They do the work, but they have no job security from one year to the next. They have no pension plans and far fewer benefits than permanent employees. And Randy Morgenson was past the middle of his career.  His marriage was going downhill.

One day, he missed his radio check, part of the routine for backcountry rangers who camped out and worked alone. And the next day.  His colleagues grew worried. Eventually a full-scale search was mounted: ground teams, airborne searchers, search dogs, even a Navy helicopter with forward-looking infrared radar. All backcountry campers and hikers in his patrol area were questioned if they had seen him.

Nothing.

Given that the conclusion is beyond his control, Eric Blehm has written a masterful nonfiction thriller in The Last Season.

I raced through the last two chapters two evenings ago and had weird park ranger dreams for half the night afterward. That is the price you pay for reading such an absorbing book.

September 17, 2011

Second Night Out: Gros Ventre Campground

Young bull moose sparring at the Gros Ventre CG, Grand Teton National Park
On Thursday, Sept. 8, after breakfast and a little exploration of one corner of Colorado State Forest State Park, we continued north into Wyoming: Saratoga to Walcott  to Rawlins to Rock Springs to Pinedale (burger stop at the Wind River Brewing Co.)  to Jackson to Grand Teton National Park.

We passed our usual North Park campsite: Cowdrey Lake State Wildlife Area north of Walden, Colo. If you want the basics—a flat place to park, an outhouse, and a small lake in which to fish—it meets the bill.

North of Cowdrey, some volunteer firefighters and the Jackson County sheriff's office were dealing with a fresh one-minivan rollover wreck. M. is still talking about the luxuriant black handlebar mustache worn by one of the deputies. Very 1890s.

Once through Jackson, we took the road that leads to Kelly, Wyo., the hamlet closely described in Ted Kerasote's Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog.

Before Kelly, you pass by the Gros Ventre Campground, which the park's website describes as rarely filling—a good thing, since you cannot make a reservation.

Its 350 sites extend through a big grove of narrowleaf cottonwoods. A river runs through it.

The only downside we could see is that the campground is somewhat in the approach/departure corridor for aircraft using Jackson Hole Airport, the only commercial airport located in a national park.

As the sun peeked over the mountains, I got up to use the restroom and encountered moose—two young bulls alternately feeding and play-sparring.
 
Moose stalkers and bear-proof (or bear-resistant) dumpster.
As the two moose moved through the campground, they were stalked by early-rising photographers—from a safe distance.

On Friday morning, we ate breakfast, took a stroll through the campground, then packed up our pop-up camping trailer and continued north into the weird and the wonderful that is Yellowstone National Park.

September 03, 2011

Perversely, The Ancient Ones Might Be Impressed

A survey of flood damage following the Las Conchas Fire, which burned over much of Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico, turned up a healthy marijuana plantation.
Superintendent Jason Lott said park workers spotted the pot field in rugged terrain last week when they flew a helicopter over areas in the northern part of the park that flooded after 3 inches of rain from back-to-back storms.

An interagency task force of about 35 personnel raided the area at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, then began the labor of ripping out the plants that they estimated could have had a street value in the million of dollars. The illegal site also featured an irrigation system, he said.
I have no quarrel with moderate cannabis usage, but I despise growers who tear up public lands and threaten whoever goes near their operations.

That said, given how dry the summer has been, don't you think that the Ancestral Puebloans of Frijoles Canyon would be impressed that someone managed to grow something?

August 26, 2011

Blog Stew with Disappearing Spiders

• An EMT's tips on keeping butt-crack spiders away.

• Re-thinking cosmic rays, clouds, and climate change: New evidence from CERN. Apparently current climate models leave out something big.

• M. and I will be going back to Yellowstone this fall, we hope. Evidence shows that concealed-carry in national parks has not led to an outbreak of violent crime. Quite the contrary.

July 24, 2011

Blog Stew with Ticking Sheep

• Using sheep as tick bait in Scotland, partly to preserve the traditions of the Glorious Twelfth. Clever, but probably would not work in North America.

• What the American Kennel Club has in common with the Roman Catholic Church—and not in a good way.

• A National Park Service ranger (you know, the helpful ones) goes all "respect my authoritah" on a middle-aged female tourist. Sounds like NPS vehicles should have those helpful dashboard video cameras, like in Canton, Ohio.

December 14, 2010

For a National Park Demoted, a Second Chance

I did not know that national parks were ever un-made, but it happened in Oklahoma in 1976, when the Platt National Park was demoted for lacking "scenic grandeur."
What started as local boosterism of hydrotherapy in cold mineral springs grew into one of America's most visited national parks by the 1920s. Despite its popularity, Platt lacked both scenic grandeur and political influence; it did not fit prevailing images of wild nature among NPS bureaucrats and the urban elite who formed the core of the environmental movement; it was too small, too humanized, and too ordinary. As images of people embedded in nature have gained wider acceptance in recent decades, would this small, geographically distinctive, and culturally rich “park of the people” have met a similar fate today?
It was added to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area but still considered noteworthy for its numerous examples of Civilian Conservation Corps "parkitecture." Now it is being recommended by a Park Service advisory board for national landmark status.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a very popular national park (1.2 million recreational visits in 2009) has managed the former Platt National Park as an administrative unit called the Platt Historic District. An important element of Chickasaw's mission is to preserve and interpret the Platt Historic District's physical resources (including numerous mineral springs) and cultural-historical resources.

The importance of the latter was underscored when the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service Advisory Board voted unanimously on November 4 to recommend that the original Platt National Park portion of Chickasaw National Recreation Area be designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL).

Yep, Ken Burns missed that one.

(You're right: I am copying New York Times headlinese, just for the helluvit.)

October 10, 2010

House of Rain, House of Pain

National Park Service Ranger Pat Jovesama, a Hopi Indian,  set off down the canyon trail at a deceptively slow amble that still kept him ahead of the group.

It had rained hard all night, one thunderstorm after another shaking our little pop-up trailer at the campground at Navajo National Monument* in northeastern Arizona.

"Administration," he said, in his soft, low-key Hopi way, might order him to abort the ranger hike to Bétatakin Ruin if the weather looked too bad.
Setting off in the sunshine down the Betatakin cliff dwellings trail.
So he did not pause to talk about flora and fauna, except to briefly point out the Ice Age-relict stand of aspen and Douglas fir—seemingly out of place here in northeast Arizona—in one side canyon.

Following him were the couple from Tahoe with their elementary school-aged two kids (getting credit for "independent study" from their charter school—what a deal!), the couple from Middlebury, Vermont, with the rented motor home (you see so many of those in the Southwest, rented at the Phoenix airport), and the middle-aged Navajo woman, herself a former park ranger at Mesa Verde, with her two teen-aged daughters. 
Part of Tsegi Caynon on the Kayenta Plateau in NE Arizona. We were walking from the rim to the bottom.
Down, down we went, hundreds of feet, almost to the bottom of Tsegi Canyon, when the word was passed forward to Ranger Pat: the Navajo woman had sprained (or maybe broken) her ankle on the loose rocks of the trail. We gathered around where she sat with her leg straight out in front of her.

Ranger Pat was doing something with his first aid kit. The woman from Vermont offered some Motrin, which were accepted.

Dilemma. He had to stay with the injured woman until help came. Unaccompanied visitors are not allowed at Bétatakin, lest they walk off with it or something, so we could not go farther. He had radioed for help, which was coming. The rest of us should just walk back out of the canyon to our vehicles.

Rain was coming too, we could feel it. (The forecast was "80 percent chance of heavy rain.") On the descent, I had noticed that one section was just steps cut lightly into the slick rock, and I had wondered what it would be like to try to climb them in pouring rain.

I hiked out with the Vermonters, who were the fastest. The two teenagers were not far behind us. ("See you later, Mom.") At the parking area we met two park rangers unloading a folding stretcher. Three men still seemed like too few to carry a rather chunky woman up the steep canyon trail.

We offered again to help, but one ranger explained that "liability issues" prevented it. The message: We are park professionals. You are park consumers. Stay on the trail.

One more ranger was coming, so maybe with four they could break into two teams.

Bétatakin cliff dwellings, from the easy trail near the visitor center.
And then later the storms did come again, lashing and rocking the trailer, only to end in a sunny late afternoon.  For the second time, M. and I walked out to the overlook where you can see the ruin from across the canyon, which is enough for many visitors.

The woman's injury might have been a blessing, she suggested, because otherwise the storm (which spawned tornadoes elsewhere in Arizona) would have caught us hiking out of the canyon. Her pain, our gain.

I have been to many other Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloan ruins. To be frank, I was mainly curious to hear how a Hopi ranger would discuss the ruin, which the Hopi call Talastima, meaning "Place of the Corn Tassel." (The Navajo name, Bétatakin, means "House on a Ledge.")

Park Service interpreters always give a bland, non-controversial spiel, and Hopis keep secrets, but still, I wanted to hear his spin on the history.

Lacking that, however, here is a quotation from Craig Childs' excellent history House of Rain, which I reviewed earlier.
[The dwellings were occupied for less than a century. Tree-ring data reveals that] Mesa Verde ... produced no tree-cutting dates after 1280. Finally the large Kayenta sites of Kiet Siel and Betatakin saw their last construction in 1285....The Anasazi made their last attempts to hunker down, and finally no one was left. Ten years after Mesa Verde fell, Kayenta went down right behind it, like the successive toppling of dominoes, a wave of immigrants and abandonments heading south, pushing down walls as they went, uprooting everyone.
*Yes, the monument protects ruins built by the ancestors of the Hopi tribe, but the Navajos lived there later and their reservation surrounds it, hence the name, I guess.

September 28, 2010

14,882 Human Skeletal Fragments

A discussion on the Archaeology magazine blog by Heather Pringle about how archaeological interpretation follows cultural concerns--war, environmental destruction, climate, whatever--using the long-hushed-up evidence of group violence among the Ancestral Puebloans (a.k.a. Anasazi) of the American Southwest.

My response is in the comments.

August 24, 2010

NYT Article on National Parks Search and Rescue Deconstructed

A year ago I linked to a news story about "Yuppie 911," the phenomenon of people with GPS-enabled emergency beacons punching the panic button when conditions became slightly uncomfortable.

Some of the same anecdotes, however, were recyled in a fresh New York Times story about an alleged increase of tech-enabled Search and Rescue calls. That article in turn is fisked by Slate's Jack Shafer:

To buttress the bogus headlines, the Times stacks a bunch of anecdotes about how park visitors have gotten injured, lost, or killed while using technology. The Times tells us about a park visitor who gets gored while videotaping a buffalo; about a picture-taker who falls 75 feet because he was backing up at the Grand Canyon as he took pictures; about a lost hiker who cell-phones in a request for hot chocolate to park rangers; about a group of hikers who press the emergency button on their satellite-location device repeatedly, one time doing so to inform park rangers that their water "tasted salty"; and about a pair of novice whitewater-rafters who drowned after building a log raft and attempting to videotape their voyage down the Virgin River as an entry in a Man vs. Wild TV competition. The men had little camping experience, not much food, and no overnight gear.
According to numbers Shafer trots out, the overall number of rescues in national parks has actually fallen since the 1990s.

Search-and-rescue operations conducted between 1992 and 2009 actually peaked at 5,761 in 1998, according to the NPS. Over that same period, the average number of annual search-and-rescue missions was 4,027, which means that the figure the Times ended up ballyhooing ("topped 3,500") is below the 18-year average.

In other words, there has been no dramatic increase in the number of NPS search-and-rescue operations in the era of the mobile phone, the satellite phone, GPS, and the emergency beacon. Technology isn't leading more park visitors into trouble.

He does not explain why. Fewer backcountry users? Better outdoor gear? Better experienced backcountry users? 

 Via Ann Althouse, with a discussion of "bogosity" versus "bogusity."

SORT OF RELATED:  NPR's Terry Gross interviews the Times' Matt Richtel, who has been writing on the effects of communication technologies on the brain and behavior.

Recently Richtel accompanied several scientists, all of whom are studying the brain, on a weeklong retreat to a remote corner of Utah. The rules of the vacation? No cell phones, no Internet access and no technological distractions.

"Partly they wanted to go on vacation and see it through a neurologic lens," he says. "They wanted to take a look at what was happening to their brain and their perspectives — and by extension, ours — as they got off the grid."

June 17, 2010

Smelling Smoke in the Air

June 18: Médano Fire smoke plume blows east across the Wet Mountain Valley
About 8 o'clock this morning I walked the dogs up the ridge behind the house and thought I smelled smoke, but I could not see smoke.

Just as a test, I said nothing to see if She of the Sensitive Nose would smell it. Nope.

This afternoon, my friend Paul called to say that his wife had spotted smoke to the south of their house and could I see it?

In fact, I could, once I walked uphill a little. Checked the Pueblo weather radar, and there was definitely a fan-shaped echo to the southwest. And we were smelling smoke for certain this time.

By 5 o'clock in the evening smoke was definitely moving into our valley—apparently a small fire at the Great Sand Dunes National Park doubled in size today and is sending a smoke plume eastward.

That is miles and miles away from here, but the smoke is dropping down as the evening air cools.

They are calling it the Medano Fire, from the creek running past the dunes. And as a commenter on the linked site points out, that is pronounced in local English as "MAD-naw."

Really. It's Spanish from an Old Castillian word for mountain, and in Spanish there is an accent mark on the E. Not Med-AH-no, which some people say in the mistaken belief that they are pronouncing a Spanish word correctly.

"Why can't we enjoy summer?" M. asked rhetorically when she smelled smoke. And, adding the catchphrase of the season, "I want my life back."

UPDATE: It's mentioned on Wildfire Today as well.


The Medano fire in Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 70 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado (map) has not been doing much… until today. Lightning started the fire on June 6 and yesterday it was about 373 acres, but by Thursday evening it had burned about 3,000 acres, according to park spokeswoman Carol Sperling. The National Park Service is not putting it out, but is allowing it to benefit the natural resources.

May 15, 2010

Astounding Jackrabbit Facts--and More

• Your jackrabbit is a dainty beast, very fleet of foot, and possessed of a latticework skull, so the Codger tells us.

• Jake Allsop gives us one more nickname for a kestrel, which can substitute for a hearty oath, viz.: "Oh, ********!"

• Every time we watched one of Ken Burns' national park series, M. and I wondered, "Why couldn't we have a Civilian Conservation Corps today?"  They built so much of what we take for granted at national parks and elsewhere.

Now there would be 500 more bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through, for one thing. Someone would probably object to clothing the young people in surplus Army uniforms—too militaristic! In the 1930s, they were happy to have durable clothing.

But you can visit a blog about the history of the CCC.

April 05, 2010

Big Brother in the Backcountry

News about the National Park Service putting remote-controlled cameras in the Yellowstone National Park back country.

Well, maybe not yet, but the legal language is there "for flexibility," say the parkies.

National Parks Traveler asks the obvious question:

Has poaching, resource damage, or backcountry crime become such high-profile matters that the National Park Service feels the best way to respond to them and combat them is through the use of webcams? And really, if you're heading into the backcountry for nefarious reasons and not merely to enjoy the setting and experience, how likely is it that you're going to travel well-established trails that might one day be lined with webcams?

Spending the money on actual human rangers, who can think independently, help people, and so forth seems like a better idea.

And imagine the poor NPS employee who signed up for an "outdoor job" and ends up sitting on his/her butt in an office watching camera feeds.

March 01, 2010

High Country News Misrepresents National Parks Gun Law

On February 22, it became legal to carry concealed weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges according to the laws of the state in which they are located.

Most states require classroom instruction, a firing-range session, and a criminal background check in order to grant a concealed-carry permit. Vermont and Alaska do not require permits. Arizona permits "open" carry.

It's been a whole week, and mass carnage has not yet erupted.

Sitting her office, Betsy Marston, retired editor of High Country News, "views with alarm" the new regulations: "tourists around you might be packing an assault rifle."

(High Country News always seasons its good environmental reporting with plenty of stereotypes and liberal guilt.)

Right. Frankly, I doubt that Mrs. Marston could define "assault rifle" if you handed her a pencil and piece of paper. And even using Wikipedia evidently is too much trouble.

Let's go back to that key word: concealed. It means, "you can't see it," and that fact pretty rules out rifles and shotguns.

But why let simple facts get in the way of editorial opinions?

National parks are not always safe places, and the dangerous predators usually walk on two legs. (I prefer pepper spray for the four-legged type.)

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Sebastian of Snowflakes in Hell puts boots on the ground, looking for carnage in parks and monuments, but he finds none.

Funny about that.

December 13, 2009

Mongols in the San Luis Valley: Not the Movie

A delegation of Mongolian natural-resource managers recently visited Colorado's San Luis Valley to compare notes with the parkies at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Mongolia, which is roughly six times the size of Colorado with half the population, has embarked on an ambitious conservation program that would bring up to one-third of the arid country into a system of preserves and parks.

Synchronicity: Last night M. and I watched Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan(dir. Sergei Bodrov, 2007) .

It ranks highly among "barbarian movies," all of which follow the same gender code:

Men...
  1. Fight
  2. Become blood brothers and thereafter greet one another with an inarticulate "Yaaah!"
  3. Suffer pain
  4. Seek visions
  5. Have sex

Women...
  1. Have sex
  2. Bear sons
  3. Flee from enemies provoked by the men or ...
  4. Are captured by said enemies
  5. Shout curses at numbers 3 and 4.
There is also epic cinematography from Inner Mongolia (China) and Kazakhstan.

Any Westerner who upon seeing the movie thinks something like, "That reminds me of the Wind River Range" —or the Great Sand Dunes—might contemplate how, for instance, the Blackfeet, Sioux, or Plains Cree might have turned out if they had not just horses but also steel weapons, sheep, and wheeled carts—plus a few centuries to refine a lifestyle of nomadism, fearless independence, and blood feuds.

The Merkit people—simultaneously neighbors, enemies, and relatives of Genghis Khan—are even shown as living in tipis.

October 26, 2009

Nature is Scary! Get Me Out of Here!

The headline: Rescuers Fear Yuppie 911.

People carrying GPS-enabled emergency beacons ("Onstar for hikers", "Yuppie 911") are pressing them whenever they feel mildly inconvenienced, causing problems for seach-and-rescue teams and other first responders.

In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep [Grand C]anyon walls.

What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst "tasted salty."


Or the woman who activated hers because she was frightened of a thunderstorm. Great-grandmother would have hunkered down and waited it out, y'know?

Charging more people for unnecessary rescues seems like one option. Or fining them, as the National Park Service did the Grand Canyon idiots.

In Colorado, purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses automatically contribute to a Search and Rescue Fund that reimburses at least some costs of a rescue. Or you can buy a state SAR card that does the same thing. Three bucks, and you can get it online.

If a service is free, people will misuse it. Ask this guy.

UPDATE: New Hampshire bills hikers for rescues; other states differ.

October 06, 2009

A Tale of Two Caves

Park Service ranger at Jewel Cave National Monument. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.Above: Kids peer up at calcite crystals as our Park Service tour guide describes the formation of Jewel Cave.

Outdoor travel in late September is always chancy. More than once we have faced the "disappearing campground blues," when forest and park campgrounds start closing, forcing you into more crowded quarters at the few the authorities deign to leave open (e.g., Madison Junction at Yellowstone).

In Yellowstone last year, I kept thinking, "If this is the 'off-season,' I am glad that we did not come during the high season." There seemed to be plenty of people at all the auto-accessible geothermal features, not to mention the scores of wolf-cultists.

Likewise the Park Service thinking on ranger-led tours.

When we came to Wind Cave on September 29th, all of the cave tours were canceled but one, the "Garden of Eden" tour, which M. and I decided should be called the "geezer tour." It lasted an hour, but most of that was just standing around listening to the ranger guide tell stories. He told them well, interweaving geology and history, but still, of miles of public cave trail, we saw maybe a quarter mile and three rooms, chiefly the room called the Garden of Eden by its discoverer in the 1890s.

I assume there are staffing issues with seasonal rangers, etc., but it also seems that the Park Service assumes that anyone traveling after Labor Day is decrepit and unable to handle a longer walk and a few more stairs.

For that "geezer tour" you pay $7. And, yes, we had a full tour group on a Tuesday afternoon.

Things were somewhat better over at Jewel Cave National Monument. Again, some of their most interesting tours are offered only in the high season.

But we were able to take the Scenic Tour—a half-mile loop, one hour and twenty minutes, $8 for an adult ticket—a better value than Wind Cave offered. There were more than 20 people in our group, on a snowy Thursday, October 1st, and another group was entering as we were leaving. There are plenty of "off-season" visitors.

You spend a lot of time trooping along clanging industrial aluminum catwalks and stairs, which give the cave a sort of "secret lair of the super-villain" feel. But wood would not last well in the 99-percent humidity. And you see enough rooms, passages, formations, etc., to give you a real feeling for the cave, which actually includes about 140 miles of mapped passages.

Notice the absence of geezers in the photo above. Home-schooled kids? Kids whose parents thought that they would benefit more from a cave trip than the classroom? Either way, I was happy to see them there.

October 05, 2009

Parkitecture in the Black Hills

Above: the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park, built in the 1920s, with its two recent wings.

One way in which Custer State Park resembles a mini-Yellowstone is that it offers a few examples of "parkitecture," the building style of the 1900s-1920s that features massive timbers, rustic stonework, and an overall "hall of the mountain king" effect. (You can see more examples at the Parkitecture web site.)

Norbeck Visitor Center, Custer State Park. Photo by Chas S. CliftonCuster's Peter Norbeck Visitor Center (above) suggests the Norris Geyser Basin Museum in Yellowstone--classic parkitecture. Here (below) is a detail of the copper downspouts:



Wind Cave National Park visitor center, 2009. Photo by Chas S. CliftonThe visitor center at Wind Cave National Park (above), built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, offers a relaxed and inviting face as well.

Although I do not visit just to see the buildings, I make a point of experiencing them—having a drink in the bar while watching tourists interact with the buffalo, wandering the museums, eating a meal in the dining room. It's all part of slowing down and being there.