Respecting our National Parks: It's Up To Us

Last summer I lived a stone's throw away from two of our nation's most pristine national parks. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of tourists. And I do mean a lot.

Envision driving down the highway on your way to town. Routine grocery run. The Cheerios need milk and the cat needs kibble.

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

But wait! You're in Wyoming, where the buffalo roam free to nosh in the meadow next to the highway. Pretty cool, right? Yeah! The driver in front you agrees, so they slam on their brakes to get a better look. That's right, coming to a complete stop right in the middle of the highway. With you behind them, cruising at a healthy 60mph. Look, I get it. Buffalo are badass. But dude, the highway!!

 

 

The way I see it, you've got three choices:

  1. Slam on your brakes, hoping you don't take out their rear bumper, and chill in your car with some Bob Marley. After all, not everyone gets to see this level of awesome on the daily.

  2. Keep driving, right into the ass end of their rental car. Let's hope they're responsible enough to opt in for the coverage.

  3. Slide open that sunroof, stand up on your seat, and let loose a mighty roar fierce enough to make the driver and the buffalo retreat in fear.

Anyone who has lived near a popular park knows how maddening groups of tourists can be. I hate to harp on Yellowstone, and it’s not their fault. But, some of the most appalling behavior I've seen was in that park. I often feel like a renegade park Ranger when I'm there.

Roadside Bison - Nicole Atkins

Roadside Bison - Nicole Atkins

I've stopped counting the times I told people to step away from the very large, very wild, very dangerous bison. My favorite has to be the woman who was inching her way closer to a nursing bison. The murderous look in Momma Bison's eyes should have been enough to deter her. I calmly asked this woman for her address so I could show up to her own house next time she was nursing her child. Maybe she just needed to know how it feels. A little empathy can go a long way.

Or the time a teenage girl was dangling her grimy feet in a geyser 3 feet from a sign telling her to stay out of it. I was kind enough to warn her she should expect her skin to decay in the next 2-3 weeks (hence the signs- for her safety). Was I lying? Damn right. Kids, sometimes we have to lie for the advancement of the greater good. Life is complicated.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

I don't think I've seen a teenager run that fast, outside of school sports or a mall sale.

More importantly, though, none of the fifty or more people standing around said a single thing to her. Many of them just stood and gawked, shaking their head. They knew it was wrong, so why not mention it? I’m sure several of them would have been more tactful about it than I was.

Why people feel the need to profess their undying love by carving it into a tree or boulder is beyond me. I can only hope that Cletus returns to the park with his future wife who will inevitably ask who the hell Tammy Mae is.

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️  Buzzfeed

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️ Buzzfeed

And don't get me started on selfie sticks. It's like walking through an obstacle course the way you have to dodge those things. Sometimes I imagine cartwheeling my way through the park, collecting as many selfie sticks as I can. Each one earns me coins, which I can then trade for something useful, like a waffle cone maker or Laserdiscs.

I could go on with the ridiculous things I’ve seen tourists do. I don’t need to because others have done it for me. Several lists of one-star Yelp reviews for national parks have come out. Yellowstone itself has seen their fair share of silly questions from the tourism crowd.

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Tourism is a tricky beast. We’ve all been a tourist. Individually, most tourists are congenial creatures who just want to enjoy the beauty and awe the national parks inspire. But pack them into crowds and they morph into a mysterious force that strikes confusion into the heart of the most seasoned sociologists.

I generally don’t make a habit of teasing tourists, but I need them to help me make a point. The national parks are for all of us to enjoy. While I poke fun at tourists my point is it’s important to speak up. If you see someone violating our shared space, or putting anyone in danger, say something. Look, I get it. We’ve all fallen victim to the bystander effect at some point.

But really, if you see someone jamming their leg into a geyser full of bacteria, put a stop to that nonsense.

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

This way we can all keep being tourists at these amazing places that make our country unique. The longer we keep the parks pristine, the longer we can enjoy what they have to offer. It's up to all of us.

The good news is, Yellowstone is such a massive piece of land, it’s easy to get away from the crowds.  The backcountry is substantial. You can hang out with herds of buffalo when you tire of running with the herds of people. You should check it out sometime if you haven’t already.

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Do you have any memorable tourism stories during your outdoor adventures? Tell us about them! We love stories.

 

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Life in Death Valley: The Super Bloom

Cracked Desert Earth - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Cracked Desert Earth - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Anyone who has been to Death Valley in Eastern California knows it can be a harsh, fearful environment.

I grew up in the comfortable climate of the Pacific Northwest, where the temps seldom rise above the mid-80s. The first time I came to Death Valley it was an instant shock to my delicate system. I stepped out of my car into the blistering 126-degree heat and nearly choked on my own stifled breath.

The second time I visited the park, I was actually blown over by a gust of wind, right onto my ass. Granted, I weigh in at just over a Benjamin (100lbs). But that’s 85% Grade-A lean meat of Benji. I'd expect a little more stability from all the time I put into my training.

As you can imagine, I fell in love with this place with a quickness. Every girl loves a bad boy who can choke her and knock her down, but still astounds her with awe and makes her cry tears of joy. Am I right?

Look, it’s a complicated relationship.

Dante's View at Sunrise in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Dante's View at Sunrise in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes at Sunset - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes at Sunset - ©️ Nicole Atkins

My point is this place doesn’t mess around when it comes to weather. I'm sure the variety of climate conditions contribute to the spectacular sunrise and sunsets you’ll see in the area.

Death Valley is a strange and beautiful place. The lowest point in the park is 282 feet below sea level, and the highest point rises to over 11,000 feet.

You can imagine there are a variety of landscapes you might not expect from a desert environment. That’s what you get for making assumptions. Shame on you.

One special surprise the park gifts us is the colorful display of wildflowers that spring up each year between the months of February and June.

The splash of color against the muted backdrop of sand create an appealing contrast usually reserved for oil paintings.

Desert Gold Close-Up - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Desert Gold Close-Up - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Once in a rare while, when the conditions are just right, the park will experience a Super Bloom. The last two Super Blooms were in 1998 and 2005, so the park hasn’t seen an event like this in over a decade. El Nino brought heavy rain to the area this year, making the once harsh environment fertile for another Super Bloom. We all waited in anxious anticipation to see what would happen, and the Desert of Doom did not disappoint.

Washes usually spotted with Desert Gold wildflowers are now blanketed in sheets of yellow. Just looking at it makes you want to roll around like a feline stoned on catnip.

Desert Gold Super Bloom at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Desert Gold Super Bloom at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

You can actually frolic in the flowers like a happy child, waving your arms about, singing tunes from The Sound of Music. You can do this in the hottest place on earth (and driest in North America). Talk about a rare and splendid opportunity.

And let’s be honest. When you’re in a field of wildflowers the only appropriate action is to frolic gaily.

Desert Gold Super Bloom - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Desert Gold Super Bloom - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The Super Bloom won’t last long. Most of the flowers will be gone by late June or July. While they’re here, the surplus of vibrant blossoms is awaiting your deserved admiration. So go, see history in the making. Walk through the Valley of Death and see for yourself there’s no evil to fear. It’s a veritable gangsters paradise right now. Ah yes, that’s where I’ve heard that line. ;-)

Check out some of the great hikes while you’re there. Death Valley boasts some fantastic canyons and sand dunes. There's even a massive volcanic crater.

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Have you been to Death Valley, or been fortunate enough to witness a Super Bloom? Tell us about it!

 

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Home is Where You Plant Your Boots: A Tribute to Utah

Apparently, I love to move.

It must be the process of packing everything I own, driving thousands of miles, and unpacking all those things again that excites me.

It could also be that there’s so much world out there to experience, even in our own backyard. I just have the wanderlust to experience it.

Welcome to Utah - ©️ Aram Kudurshian

Welcome to Utah - ©️ Aram Kudurshian

No, it’s definitely got to be the tediousness of carrying heavy boxes that gets me going.

Whatever the reason, I moved again. This time to the fine state of Utah. Therefore, this post is a tribute to Utah.

Shout out to Utah!

I’ve had a love affair with southern Utah since I first laid eyes on it. Birds were chirping somewhere in the distance. Lionel Richie’s “Hello” softly filling the air.

I knew it was mutual because the "Welcome to Utah" sign offered up a stylish wedding ring.

The contrast of the deep blue skies against the brilliant red sandstone is like nothing I’ve seen. In fact, I remember people accusing me of over saturating untouched photos. No, it really is that colorful.

Kolob Canyons in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Kolob Canyons in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zion National Park is, by far, one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited. It’s a place that simultaneously reminds you of how important and insignificant you are.

The grandiosity of the massive canyon walls are astounding and humbling; the beauty unforgettable.

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing - ©️ Nicole Atkins

If the National Parks were my children, Zion would be the obvious favorite. It’s a good thing I don’t have children.

Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. All places everyone should see in their life. If not for the views, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, climbing, stargazing, or other outdoor activities, then for the rich history. Your life isn’t complete until you’ve seen these places. They're even more beautiful in the winter.

Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Fruita Valley in Capitol Reef - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Fruita Valley in Capitol Reef - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Turret Arch via North Window in Arches - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Turret Arch via North Window in Arches - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Utah loves its National Parks. And why shouldn’t it? In 2013, the federal government threw a temper tantrum and shut down. As a result, the National Parks closed. But Utah said, “screw you” and struck a deal to reopen their National Parks. Go Utah!

But wait, there’s more!

Utah isn’t just about Mother Nature’s slots and dried up valleys. Up north is a different scene. Just a few hours away are the Rockies. The Wasatch and Uinta Ranges offer even more opportunities for play. The Wasatch have some of the best skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the world. The Uintas have several peaks taller than 13,000ft. Who can resist such bountiful peaks?

Wasatch Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Wasatch Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ruth Lake in Uintas - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ruth Lake in Uintas - ©️ Nicole Atkins

That’s a lot of diversity. There’s no excuse for boredom in a place like Utah. What other state offers so much variety in one arbitrarily designated set of boundaries?

Utah’s nature is boundless, but it’s great for other reasons too. The people here are, overall, super friendly. A lot of people migrate to Utah for a good reason. Every time I visit, I meet people from one of the places I’ve lived before. In a coffee shop, on a hike, in the bathroom (don’t ask). 

I definitely look forward to planting my boots here for a while.

 

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