Summertime used to be fun. I used to travel all over the American West taking pictures all summer long. I loved going to Colorado and Wyoming and Montana and Idaho and Arizona. In the mountains where I spent a lot of time shooting landscapes it was always cool and the National parks were busy but not totally packed.
After the unbelievably high temperatures in the usually cool Pacific Northwest it is hard to believe anything in the American West is every going to be the same again.
Two weeks ago temperatures across most of Oregon and Washington and even Canada spiked 20 to 30 degrees Celsius above normal.
Millions of people in the Pacific Northwest from Portland to Vancouver suffered extreme heat that was well above 110 degrees in many places. Portland hit a high of 116 degrees. Salem hit an unbelievable high of 117 degrees. Seattle broke its previous record of 103 and had a new record high of 107 degrees. Quillayute, WA also broke its record of 99 degrees and hit 110 degrees. The temperature at Columbia Gorge Reginal Airport was 118. Canada broke its all time national temperature record with temperatures at Lytton of 118 and then 121 degrees.
The day after Lytton was so unbelievably hot, the whole countryside bust into flames and the surrounding forest including the town of Lytton burnt to a crisp, all of it totally gone in just a matter of hours.
After something like this, everything feels changed. The mountains no longer feel quite so friendly. And who knows what’s going to happen next. Certainly extremely hot weather, extreme drying, extreme drought, rivers drying up, and reservoirs and lakes at extremely low levels. And probably much much worse. The world is just not the same as it was only five or ten years ago. Everything is different now.
And its not just drought and wildfire. Our National Parks have changed also. Last year everyone was sitting out the Covid pandemic and few were traveling. But this year everyone is back with a vengeance. And the parks are packed like they had never been packed before. All the parks are now having unprecedented numbers of visitors.
Early this spring Yellowstone’s park supervisor said he expected high numbers of visitors.
“I think it will be a record year by far,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly, who predicts that somewhere around 4.5 million visitors will stream into the iconic park — 700,000 more than in 2020. The park began opening its gates on April 8 and experienced the highest April visitation ever. April’s record came on the heels of record visitation in September and October last fall. Neighboring Grand Teton National Park saw similar trends.
Here are a few pictures of the mobs crowding into our National parks. Click any image for a full screen slide show.
It’s not that I don’t want Americans to visit their National Parks. That’s what these parks are here for. They belong to all Americans and Americans need to use them.
And I do think that the National Park system is doing its best to deal with temporary crowding with the slender resources they have. But on the other hand, this is a rich country. America has tons of money and lots and lots of experts who know imaginative ways parks can be expanded and improved to deal with large numbers of visitors and still be a quality experience. Our national parks don’t need to look like carnival venues on the opening day of state fair.
I think part of the problem is that National Parks don’t really get their fair share of all that money our government has access to. I think that maybe we can blame the Republican Party for a lot of that. I plan to write something on this in the future.
I do have hopes for National Parks that will be less crowded and less a mob scene and more a quality nature experience. National parks are the Crown Jewels of America and we should manage them accordingly.
Below are some pictures of National Parks taken over the past thirty years. For a lot of those years the parks were much different feeling than they are now. Some of the places pictured in the gallery below are not National Parks but are places that should have been National Parks. All of them are of American public lands though.
Our great American public lands like our National Parks, National Forests, Wilderness Areas, National Monuments and BLM lands are the great treasure of America and hopefully will never be allowed to turn into overcrowded carnivals.
They should always and forever be open to all the American people as they are now. Unfortunately there are many powerful movements trying to turn these public lands into private lands to be owned and used by only the few. Most of these being the very rich. The more this happens, the more the American people lose. And the more American Democracy loses.
And then there is the whole problem of the very rich just buying up massive plots of public lands for private ranches and private resorts for themselves alone. This is a huge problem right now. There are links to a couple of articles on this problem below. This is another issue I plan to write about in the future.
You can expand all of the pictures below into a full screen slide show by clicking any image. If you are using a laptop or desktop, clicking into full screen mode will make the pictures a lot larger.