Podcast Episodes

Unleashing a Tamed River

Over the past century, the United States has led the world in dam construction. There are at least 90,000 dams over six-feet tall in this country and over 2 million shorter than six feet. More than a quarter have passed their 50-year average life expectancy; by 2020, that figure will reach 85 percent. On average, we have constructed one dam over 6 feet tall every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the removal of the dams on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park. And if you think it just takes a little dynamite, it doesn’t.


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Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Olympic National Park – NPS Website

America’s Rivers – River cleanup, restoration, and conservation group


Transcript

Click the arrow to read the full text of this episode.

Over the past century, the United States has led the world in dam construction. There are at least 90,000 dams over six-feet tall in this country, and over 2 million shorter than six feet. More than a quarter have passed their 50-year average life expectancy; by 2020, that figure will reach 85 percent. On average, we have constructed one dam over 6 feet tall every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Dams are set in place for irrigation, electricity generation, water storage … they have lots of society benefits. But it’s undeniable that dams cause significant harm to natural ecosystems. They prevent fish migration and limit access to spawning habitats. They decrease the flow of the river. Many fish such as salmon and river herring depend on steady flows to guide them. Irregular releases of water destroy natural seasonal flow that signals the start of growth and reproduction cycles in certain species. They trap massive amounts of sediment, blanketing rock riverbeds where fish spawn. Larger objects, like rocks and logs, get trapped, keeping them from creating complex habitats downstream. Sometimes the river is stopped entirely behind the dam for periods of time, leaving the riverbed dry.

In the reservoir, the water gets warmer than it should, affecting sensitive species and leading algae to bloom. When water is released, it’s often released from the deep, cold, oxygen-deprived depths.

Once past the half-century mark, dams begin to decay. The earth around them erodes and seeps, gates rust, concrete loses tensile strength, and the accumulating settlement reduces the capacity of reservoirs. A feeble dam could fail, causing dangerous flooding.

As costs to maintain dams rise, the economic return is decreased. Many older dams are obsolete. In few other places were these effects so evident than on the Elwha River in the northwest corner of Washington, where 100lb salmon once ran freely upstream from the Pacific Ocean. For millennia these fish thrived in the river and provided food for the indigenous people who lived along its banks until two dams were constructed.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the removal of the dams on the Elwha river in Olympic National Park. And if you think it just takes a little dynamite, it doesn’t.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

In the late 1800s, a growing nation looked to the Northwest to supply the lumber needed to build new cities. Thomas Aldwell was the first to see an opportunity for economic gain in the taming of the Elwha River, making plans to harness the water to generate electricity. With the financial backing of investors, he bought land along the river and began construction of the Elwha Dam in 1910. A state law demanded fish passage devices be built into dams, but Fish Commissioner Leslie Darwin offered to waive that provision if Aldwell built a fish hatchery adjoining the dam. It was abandoned by the state in 1922.

The concrete dam was secured to the walls of the canyon, but not the underlying bedrock, causing the foundation to blow out in 1912 shortly after the reservoir (called Lake Aldwell) filled. It was plugged by adding fill material to the river below and above of the dam.

The Elwha Dam became operational in 1913, bringing electricity to a remote area, spurring economic growth. As demand increased, two additional turbines and a second powerhouse were installed, and then, another dam eight miles upstream in Glines Canyon. Its narrow passage and high bedrock walls promised a large energy yield.

Prior to the dam construction, all five species of Pacific salmon ran the Elwha, along with other river-spawning fish. The failure to build fish ladders left the River with only five miles of available habitat for spawning. Over time, fish populations diminished to less than 10% of their early 1900s levels. The dam flooded lands sacred to the indigenous people of the area, who have long identified with the river, the salmon, and the land.

For decades, experts agreed that removing the two dams were essential for the watershed, in particular, for its trout and salmon. But the idea of eliminating two sources of inexpensive electricity was universally panned by the public.

“Thirty years ago, when I was in law school in the Pacific Northwest, removing the dams from the Elwha River was seen as a crazy, wild-eyed idea,” Bob Irvin, president and CEO of the conservation group American Rivers told National Geographic.

In the 60s, tribes began to protest the loss of the fishing rights promised to them by a federal treaty signed in the 1800s. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that Washington tribes were entitled to half the salmon catch in the state. In the wake of the court victory, the tribes began to partner with conservation groups to fight for the restoration of salmon runs and the removal of the Elwha River dams. The Olympic Peninsula had long ago been connected to the regional power grid, and the dams now provided only a small portion of the power used by its residents and industry.

The missing fish passage structures that had never been installed would cause a reduction in energy creation at the dams, sending the power they produce soaring above market prices.

In 1992, the federal government purchased the dams from the timber companies that owned them and ordered a study of removing them. Two decades of planning began for what would be the largest-ever dam removal project in the world.

Still, the timber industry and local communities opposed the demolition, and Senator Slade Gorton blocked federal funding until he was voted out of office in 2000.

The dams would have to be taken down in several stages, allowing for a relatively gradual release of the 27 million cubic yards of sediment that had built up over the course of a century. If the sediment flowed too quickly, it would damage the existing riverbed downstream, and could affect the water quality. Two treatment facilities would be built to protect local water supplies.

Different demolition methods would be used at the two dams because of their unique structural requirements. At the Glines dam, an “in the wet” process would be used, meaning the dam would be removed without diverting the water around it. First, water levels in the Lake Mills reservoir were lowered to the bottom of the spillway gates. Then, on September 15, 2011, giant barge-mounted hydraulic hammers began to remove the top 17 feet of the dam down to the waterline. The next 173 feet would be removed using a notching process. The dam was “notched down” on alternating sides, creating temporary spillways that would gradually drain the reservoir. Demolition was regularly paused for weeks at a time to allow the sediment to run through, and to avoid salmon spawning periods. Other structures were removed during these windows of halted deconstruction.

The Elwha dam would be removed “in the dry” by diverting water around it through a newly excavated channel. The first step was to lower the reservoir’s water level by using the existing water intakes and spillways by approximately 15 feet. The process began on June 1, 2011 following the closure of the powerhouse. The temporary channel was then excavated through the left spillway to allow Lake Aldwell to be further drained. Temporary dams were then installed to direct reservoir outflow into the temporary diversion channel. This allowed the remaining water immediately behind the dam to be pumped out. The fill material behind the dam could then be removed under dry conditions, followed by the concrete dam itself using diamond-wire saws.

35,000 cubic yards of concrete–more than half the amount used to construct the Empire State Building–would need to be broken up and recycled, along with hundreds of tons of metal.

Once the dam was deconstructed, the temporary dams were removed, allowing the river to flow through its original channel for the first time in a century. Earth fill and crushed bedrock was used to reshape the slopes around the dams to their original contours.

On August 26, 2014, the last 30 feet of Glines Canyon dam were reduced to rubble with a final blast of explosives. The largest dam removal in history was complete. The national park service began the process of reintroducing plants to the now barren reservoir bed, and tagging and tracking salmon.

Over the course of the last few years, the sediment has washed downstream, rebuilding riverbanks and gravel bars and creating some 70 acres of new beach and riverside habitat for creatures of all types. Shellfish began to return to the mouth of the river.

Salmon populations continue to recover, and scientists expect the whole food chain to benefit. Almost as soon as salmon returned to the river, birds began to follow the fish and to eat salmon eggs and young, providing essential nutrients. Bigger birds are bearing more young, and moving in to the area permanently. Elk stroll and munch on the vegetation buffet where there used to be a lake.

The river that emerged when the dams were removed didn’t follow orderly down a forgotten channel, however. It was chaotic and wild. Its movements were difficult to anticipate and useless to control. Logs tumble and stack, building complexities into the river’s flow. It has destroyed two campgrounds and washed out a road. But the channel is stabilizing, and the river has gained a teal green color it hasn’t seen in 100 years.

It’s rare that humans have the opportunity to set a river wild again, but on the Elwha, it happened.

——-

Dams continue to be a hot-button issue along many important waterways, but the public is getting more and more behind their removal. In Washington, the four lower Snake River dams are in the crosshairs of conservationists who are looking to preserve more salmon runs. A recent poll shows that the majority of Washington voters would rather see increased wild salmon runs than preserve the dams, even if it means paying a few dollars more a month on their electric bills.

Visiting Olympic National Park you’ll find a million acres full of several different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. It’s a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, serving as a living laboratory for scientists and students, as well as an incredible natural playground for visitors. Millions of people visit Olympic each year to experience its beauty, diversity, and many opportunities for adventure, exploration, and recreation.

Rustic cabins, historic lodges, and charming resorts are available for visits, along with 14 National Park campgrounds, only two of which accept reservations.

Olympic is very large and there are no roads that cross the park, so it takes time to get everywhere, and you need to plan accordingly. June through September, when the weather is mild, are the busiest time of year.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

The Curse of the Petrified Forest

In a small section of the painted desert of Arizona, you can find forests of crumbled trees, preserved as stone. Over 200 million years ago, these large conifers were uprooted by floods, then washed down from the highlands and buried by silt. Water seeping through the wood replaced decaying organic material cell by cell with multicolored silica. The land was lifted up by geological upheaval, and erosion began to expose the long-buried, now petrified wood.

In the modern age, the trees have their own stories, having become one of the iconic road trip destinations along Route 66. On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, Petrified Forest National Park and the curse of the Petrified Forest.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Petrified Forest National Park – NPS Website

“Rewriting the Story of Arizona’s Petrified Forest” – azcentral.com

Conscience Letters – badluckhotrocks.com

Legends of America – info on the “curse” of the Petrified Forest


Transcript

In a small section of the painted desert of Arizona, you can find forests of crumbled trees, preserved as stone. Over 200 million years ago, these large conifers were uprooted by floods, then washed down from the highlands and buried by silt. Water seeping through the wood replaced decaying organic material cell by cell with multicolored silica. The land was lifted up by geological upheaval, and erosion began to expose the long-buried, now petrified wood.

They almost look like logs sawn into evenly sized chunks, just days ago. But their age is nothing short of spectacular. To put it into perspective, they had already turned to stone and had returned to the surface when the T-Rex roamed nearby 66 million years ago.

In the modern age, the trees have their own stories, having become one of the iconic road trip destinations along Route 66. On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, Petrified Forest National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.
_____

Between 1910 and 1920, automobile ownership in the united states increased from 500,000 cars to nearly 10 million. The impracticality of the rambling trails across the country began to turn into a numbered road system under the federal highway administration. An Oklahoma real estate agent and coal company owner advocated for a diagonal roadway to run from Chicago to Los Angeles. It would be a boon for the sooner state, ushering motorists away from Kansas City and Denver. Route 66 it was called.

Thousands of unemployed youths were put to work as laborers during the depression to pave the final stretches of the road. 210,000 people traveled it to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms that damaged the ecology and agriculture of the prairies during the 1930s. For them, Route 66 symbolized the “road to opportunity.”

John Steinbeck proclaimed it the “Mother Road” in 1939s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was then immortalized in the 1940 film.

After World War II, Americans were more mobile than ever before. Servicemen who trained in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas abandoned the harsh winters of Chicago and the Northeast for the warmth of the Southwest and the West.

Route 66 became the quintessential American road trip, taking tourists across the nation to see the ever-changing landscape, including the painted desert scenes of Arizona, which they had only seen in pictures, and Petrified Forest National Park.

People were enamored by the uniqueness of the petrified wood, especially because Route 66 drove right through the park. You could have your top down in the convertible and drive by the massive collections of petrified trees in the park.

Travelers have long carried away pieces of the stone wood as memorabilia. Before it was outlawed, wagon-fulls would be hauled off for sale. When the Petrified Forest became a National Monument in 1906, it had been illegal to remove petrified wood from the park, yet that didn’t entirely stop people.

Many thought no one would notice one little rock missing, and eventually came to realize they made a terrible mistake – because of the Curse of the Petrified Forest.

In the 30s, people began to relate that, after taking a piece of petrified wood from the park, they were stricken with bad luck. From divorce to legal struggles, to car trouble, to medical conditions, and unemployment. Cat attacks to financial losses and even a plane crash.

How did the park find out about these afflictions? People would return the stolen petrified wood, usually via anonymous mail with a confession attached. They felt that bad luck came to possess those who took souvenirs and that their only salvation would come from giving it back.

“My life has been totally destroyed since we’ve been back from vacation. Please put these back so my life can get back to normal! Let me start over again!” said one such letter. The park has received endless accounts over the years from thieves. Notes often requested the wood be returned to the spot it was taken from, with hand-drawn maps describing the location.

“It was a great challenge sneaking it out of the park,” another thief wrote. “Since that time, though, nothing in my life has gone right.”

“Take these miserable rocks and put them back, they have caused pure havoc in my love life. By the time these rocks reach you, things should be back to normal. If not, I give up. Dateless and Desperate.”

“My girlfriend of three years finished with me on the drive home. So here’s your damn wood back.”

“Dear Park Rangers, Here’s your rock back. We never should have taken it. Maybe now the Giants will win a few games next year.”

Unfortunately, returning the rocks after they were taken is not something rangers can do because they are out of “scientific context.” The park is an active research site, and moving rocks undermines the scientific study. When a piece of wood is returned, the park puts it in a rusted metal box at the main office. When the box is full, a ranger takes the so-called conscience rocks to a pile on a service road closed to the public. Rangers have collected over 1200 confession letters dating back to 1935.

By the time the National Monument became a National Park in 1962, the stories of stolen rock had become nationally known. It was commonly thought that a ton of petrified wood a month, 12 tons a year, was being swiped from the park.

So much petrified wood was being stolen, that it was rumored that the park was on it’s way to extinction. Park officials intoduced stringent enforcement procedures. Vehicle inspections were implemented at the entrance and exit gates. Gloomy posters and leaflets warned visitors. Trail closures blocked up-close access to the formations. The film at the visitors’ center touted the 1-ton-a-month number, warning of the fines and damage removing petrified wood would generate.

The park did such a great job at getting the word out about stealing wood, that many people believed there was no reason to go to the park anymore. Most of the wood was already gone. And if you did go, you were admonished and warned at every turn — hardly a positive experience with nature. Going to the diminishing petrified forest was selfish.

The thing is, none of it was true.

Sure, people had taken plenty of pieces of petrified wood over the years, but the decommissioning and removal of Route 66, combined with the expansion of the park to include the painted desert meant that the new park road didn’t weave through roadside formations anymore, so return visitors thought that the petrified wood they remembered peppering the drive was gone. It wasn’t.

And nobody could pinpoint where the myth of losing a ton of wood a month came from. The lasting impression left with visitors was a ranger checking them for wood when exiting the park.

But theft was still an issue, and the park still needed to protect against it. In 2006, a team of Arizona State University psychology researchers observed peoples’ reactions to different kinds of messages. One of the experiments conducted at Petrified Forest National Park had researchers experimenting with the wording on signs meant to stop theft and found that the news that massive amounts of wood were being stolen was the least effective.

The park didn’t make any changes, though, until Superintendent Brad Traver took over. He decided that the focus needed to shift from wood thefts to history and interpretation of the 225-million-year-old historical record of the petrified wood. And he needed to eliminate the perception that the wood was all gone.

The park began photographing popular sites and compared the pictures with photos nearly a century old. Most formations looked identical, right down to individual small pieces of logs.

Instead of admonishing would-be thieves, the park now appeals to visitors’ sense of ownership of the land and its treasures. Long-closed trails have been re-opened, and a new narrative, focused on science and discovery is in place.

Conscience rocks still get mailed in to this day. Most no longer mention a curse, just profound guilt over the theft.

“To whom it may concern,

During my visit to the Petrified Forest, I took the enclosed rock. It was wrong, but I didn’t think one small rock would make a difference.

However, my parents have helped me to understand that it doesn’t matter how small it is, and is still wrong.

Sincerely,

Ryan. (Age 11)”

——

There’s a website called “bad luck hot rocks dot com” where you can see photographs of the conscience letters the park has received over the years. Many are very moving. “Sorry for my father” one short but meaningful one says.

Most people spend up to a full day at the park. Interstate 40 (the old Route 66) drives right through the North End – the painted desert area. It has its own exit, number 311, which you should take if you’re heading westbound, and then drive the 28-mile park road to the south end of the park. You can then take highway 180 to rejoin with I-40 at exit 285. If you’re heading eastbound, reverse the process. There’s no camping available, unless you’re willing to hike at least a mile into the backcountry. Outside the south entrance of the park, two privately owned gift shops allow overnight parking in their parking lots.

The north visitors center has a decently priced counter-service restaurant and fuel station with gas and diesel. Big rigs can easily drive the park road, but may not be able to park at a couple of the pull-outs.

Most sites can be seen just off the road, but a few short trails allow for a more up-close and personal experience. Take lots of water, it’s exposed and usually hot. You have to exit the park by 5pm, so make sure you get there in plenty of time to explore.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Podcast Episodes

Delicate Arch, and the Strange 1950s Schemes to Reinforce…

There’s one natural rock arch that’s known better than all others in the US, in fact, it’s on the state of Utah’s license plate. It had its own postage stamp, and the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay passed through it. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Delicate Arch, and the strange history of attempts to protect it at Arches National Park.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Arches National Park – National Park Service Website

The Stabilization of Delicate Arch – Ranger Jim Stiles’ article on his findings

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society


Transcript

Rock arches are one of my favorite wonders of the natural world. The idea that they were organically formed seems almost impossible, but of course, they are. The technical definition of a natural arch is a “rock exposure that has a hole completely through it formed by the natural, selective removal of rock, leaving a relatively intact frame.”

There are about 2000 significant natural arches in the US. A “significant” natural arch has two orthogonal opening dimensions with a product of 10 square meters or more. Of course, there are many more smaller arches. This stuff gets intense.

There’s actually an entire society of arch-lovers, called the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, whose $16 membership fee gets you four issues annually of “Span” magazine. You can find more info than you ever thought you could find about rock arches on their website. From the different classifications, measurement techniques, how they’re formed, how they get named… it’s a fascinating rabbit hole to go down if you have some time to kill.

There’s one arch that’s known better than all others in the US, in fact, it’s on the state of Utah’s license plate. It had its own postage stamp, and the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay passed through it. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Delicate Arch, and the strange history of attempts to protect it at Arches National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue:

_____

Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 natural arches that have been carved from tall, fin-like sandstone formations over the course of millennia.

Sandstone is made of grains of sand cemented together by minerals, but not all sandstone is the same. Entrada Sandstone was once a massive desert of fine-grained shifting dunes. The nearly spherical grains, when compressed together, formed a rock that is highly porous.

The Carmel layer, just beneath the Entrada, iss composed of a mix of sand and clay. Clay particles fill in gaps between the sand grains, making the rock denser and less permeable.

Deep below the surface rests a thick layer of salts. Compressed by the tons of rock above it, the salt projected upward, creating domes. The rock layers covering the domes cracked into a series of parallel fins.

Drops of rainwater soaked into the porous Entrada sandstone dissolving the bonds between the sand. The water then puddled just above the Carmel layer, eroding a cavity. The two layers expand when frozen, prying the rock apart, forming an opening. Wind then takes over, like a sandblaster, enlarging the opening and wearing away the exterior of the arch.

The most famous of these arches is the 60-foot tall rock structure that was called by local cowboys “the Chaps” or “the Schoolmarm’s Bloomers.” Today we know it as Delicate Arch, and it attracts nearly 1.5 million visitors per year. The opening is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, making it the largest free-standing arch in the park.

Delicate Arch wasn’t within the boundaries of the original Arches National Monument in 1929; it was added when the monument was enlarged in 1938. Still, even then, it was the most recognizable feature of the park.

As its name suggests, Delicate Arch is fragile, and the National Park Service goes to great lengths to ensure that visitors don’t degrade it. But despite their best efforts, the same forces that shaped Delicate Arch will one day destroy it, just like the nearby Wall Arch, which collapsed in 2008.

During his first winter at Arches, ranger Jim Stiles spent his days ransacking file cabinets and soaking up every bit of information he could find. One day he came across a folder labeled “Delicate Arch Stabilization Project.” Inside he found a decade of letters and reports discussing the state of the Delicate Arch, and whether or not it should be saved from eventual collapse by the Park Service.

Stiles found that, in 1947, a park custodian wrote to the regional director about the eroded condition of the east leg of Delicate Arch, suggesting that measures be taken to stabilize it.

For the next few years, Park Service officials would discuss the idea, but it was never taken very seriously, except by those who were concerned it could fall on a group of tourists.

But the idea gained traction when Southwest Regional Assistant Director Hugh Miller visited the arch. Miller backed a plan to apply a plaster jacket over the weak point, and then painting it to match the red rock of the arch. The National Park Service’s citizen advisory board opposed stabilization of any formations, but Davis was adamant that Delicate Arch should be an exception for its unique qualities, comparing it to a museum exhibit, according to one of the letters Stiles found.

The decision had been made by park service brass. The arch would be stabilized. But the question of how was still up for debate. A plater cast likely wouldn’t last long in the elements. Representatives from the Engineering Division and the Landscape Architectural Division met to discuss. Ridiculous ideas were floated, such as spraying it with a fixative, perhaps Elmer’s Glue or Lady Clairol Spray-Net. More serious options were a concrete collar, like the plaster jacket, or, most promising, a silicone epoxy spray.

But Park Superintendent Bates Wilson wasn’t sold. He, and others saw that messing with the arch could backfire. Not only would any attempt to stabilize it most certainly cause lasting damage, but the whole thing could also collapse during the effort. Besides, the real danger to the arch wasn’t its imminent collapse, which a band-aid would barely delay. It was graffiti. “The increasing desire of fools to carve their names in public places has reached the highest level possible in Arches at Delicate Arch,” he wrote.

But the regional office ordered the park to test the silicone epoxy, and dozens of samples were ordered from manufacturers. Instead of arguing with the bosses, Bates took a different approach. The slow roll. In fact, the many memos and letters that Stiles found were curiously void of Bates’ name, and the entire staff of Arches remained fairly quiet on the matter.

Memos kept coming in from the regional office asking for updates. Arches did not reply. The regional office asked if more money was needed. Arches did not reply. Finally, the General Superintendent sent Bates a memo saying “Will you please make a special report on this project at your very earliest convenience?” The park staff finally responded, saying they mixed the solution back in February and it was supposed to be applied within 90 days. Now, with winter closing they’d need to order a new mixture. A fine excuse.

Arches successfully fended off the General Superintendent. His memos ceased, but then, a few years later a concerned citizen wrote the National Park Service Director suggesting that a clear, erosion-resistant material be sprayed on the arch. Everyone remembered again.

Bates fended it off again, convincing his senior officials that exposure to the weather had caused the tested coatings to turn white, or scale off, and that much more experimentation would be needed.

And that’s where the idea died, as Bates Wilson outlasted his superiors.

One day, Delicate Arch will fall, as all free-standing arches do. It could be tomorrow, it could be a thousand years from now, but it will now fall as a part of its natural life cycle.

______

Arches National Park hosts over 2,000 natural stone arches, along with hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks, set under the blue skies of southeast Utah.

It’s part of the Colorado Plateau, a “high desert” region that experiences temperature fluctuations over 40 degrees in a single day. The most popular seasons are spring and fall, when daytime highs average from 60 to 80 degrees. Summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees, making hiking difficult under the unshielded sun. Winters bring snow and cold, offering the chance for photos with the arches draped in a blanket of white.

For the quick visit, there’s a scenic drive and short trails to viewpoints. But a longer visit is much more rewarding, because some of the best formations take a bit longer of a hike. Arriver early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as parking at most trailheads is full for most of the day. You can even check the park’s webcams to see the current line at the entrance station.

At Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, you can see Delicate Arch at about one mile’s distance. The nearby Upper Viewpoint, a half-mile walk with stairs, offers a slightly less obstructed view.

The trail to see Delicate Arch up close is 3 miles roundtrip and climbs 480 feet in elevation. On busy days, there is additional parking at the Delicate Arch Viewpoint parking lot. You’ll have to hike an additional mile along the road to the trailhead. The trail can be very busy, with hundreds of people at Delicate Arch for sunset.

Make sure to carry plenty of water and a proper hat and clothing for the hot summer sun or cold winter air.

Devils Garden Campground, 18 miles from the park entrance, is open for reservations March 1 – October 31. All sites are usually reserved months in advance. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served. Facilities include drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets.

There are many commercial campgrounds in the Moab area, and backcountry camping is permitted in a select few locations within the park.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

Muir, Roosevelt, and Yosemite: A Camping Trip That Changed…

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt ditched his secret service detail to go camping in the woods of Yosemite with celebrated naturalist John Muir. Through his writings, Muir taught the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural world. That camping trip changed the face of conservation in the United States. Together, sleeping on the forest floor below the sequoias, they laid the foundation for the next century of federal land preservation.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Yosemite, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and a man who was along for the ride, in their own words.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Yosemite National Park – National Park Service Website

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias Set to Re-Open June 15 – RV Miles Article

Digital John Muir Exhibit – The Sierra Club

Roosevelt, Muir, and the Camping Trip – Library of Congress

America’s National Parks, Ken Burns – PBS John Muir Page

Roosevelt and Muir – Undiscovered Yosemite

Hiking in Teddy Roosevelt’s Footsteps in Yosemite – Perceptive Travel

John Muir Biography – The Sierra Club

 


Transcript

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt ditched his secret service detail to go camping in the woods of Yosemite with celebrated naturalist John Muir. Through his writings, Muir taught the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural world. That camping trip changed the face of conservation in the United States. Together, sleeping on the forest floor below the sequoias, they laid the foundation for the next century of federal land preservation.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Yosemite, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and a man who was along for the ride, in their own words.

First, here’s Abigail Trabue, with John Muir’s portrait of the land he loved the most.

_____

“Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely rugged, with its main features on the grandest scale in height and depth, it is nevertheless easy of access and hospitable; and its marvelous beauty, displayed in striking and alluring forms, wooes the admiring wanderer on and on, higher and higher, charmed and enchanted. Benevolent, solemn, fateful, pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows like a countenance hallowed in eternal repose; and every one of its living creatures, clad in flesh and leaves, and every crystal of its rocks, whether on the surface shining in the sun or buries miles deep in what we call darkness, is throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeats of God. All the world lies warm in one heart, yet the Sierra seems to get more light than other mountains. The weather is mostly sunshine embellished with magnificent storms, and nearly everything shines from base to summit,—the rocks, streams, lakes, glaciers, irised falls, and the forests of silver fir and silver pine. And how bright is the shining after summer showers and dewy nights, and after frosty nights in spring and autumn, when the morning sunbeams are pouring through the crystals on the bushes and grass, and in winter through the snow-laden trees!

Of this glorious range the Yosemite National Park is a central section, thirty-six miles in length and forty-eight miles in breadth. The famous Yosemite Valley lies in the heart of it, and it includes the head waters of two of the most songful streams in the world; innumerable lakes and waterfalls and smooth silky lawns; the noblest forests, the loftiest granite domes, the deepest ice-sculptured canyons, the brightest crystalline pavements, and snowy mountains soaring into the sky twelve and thirteen thousand feet, arrayed in open ranks and spiry pinnacled groups partially separated by tremendous cañyons and amphitheatres; gardens on their sunny brows avalanches thundering down their long white slopes, cataracts roaring gray and foaming in the crooked rugged gorges. and glaciers in their shadowy recesses working in silence, slowly completing their sculpture; new-born lakes at their feet, blue and green, free or encumbered with drifting icebergs like miniature Arctic Oceans, shining, sparkling, calm as stars.

Nowhere will you see the majestic operations of nature more clearly revealed beside the frailest, most gentle and peaceful things. Nearly all the park is a profound solitude. Yet it is full of charming company, full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and eager enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons on life, mountain-building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful of humanity. During the last glacial period, just past, the former features of the range were rubbed off as a chalk sketch from a blackboard, and a new beginning was made. Hence the wonderful clearness and freshness of the rocky pages.”

__________

In 1868, Muir walked through the waist-high wildflowers of the San Joaquin Valley into the high country for the first time. He wrote: “It seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light…the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.”

He made his home there, and explored. He found living glaciers and conceived his theory that the Yosemite Valley was carved by them. In 1874, a series of articles entitled “Studies in the Sierra” launched his career as a writer. He eventually re-joined civilization and began traveling our great landscapes – from Alaska to Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan.

President Roosevelt was touring the country, and some of our prized wilderness including Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, when he wrote to Muir asking him to accompany him in Yosemite. The Yosemite Valley at the time had been returned from federal management to state management, and it was a wild west of ramshackle hotels and tours. Ranchers and developers were destroying the land for their own interest. The natural resources were virtually a free-for-all with no money or will to enforce laws in place to protect the area.

Roosevelt noted in the letter, “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Muir, however, knew it was all politics, and this was the chance for him to gain for Yosemite the support of the most powerful person in the country. It wasn’t hard.

There’s really only one account of the famous camping trip Roosevelt and Muir took, by Charlie Leidig, one of the few civilian rangers to accompany Roosevelt during his 1903 visit. Here is Leidig’s recorded account:

_____

They broke camp at Mariposa Grove and were on horses by 6:30 a.m. The president directed Leidig to “outskirt and keep away from civilization.” Leidig led the party down the Lightning Trail. They crossed the South Fork at Greeley’s and hit the Empire Meadows Trail. They especially avoided approaching the Wawona Hotel for fear the President would be brought in contact with members of his own official party which had remained for the night at Wawona. They had a cold lunch on the ridge east of Empire Meadows. There was lots of snow as they crossed towards Sentinel Dome; they took turns breaking trail through deep snow. In the Bridalveil Meadows the party plowed through 5 ft. of snow. The President mired down and Charley had to get a log to get him out. It was snowing hard and the wind was blowing.

On May 4, the party went down to Glacier Point for pictures that had been prearranged. As they left Glacier Point, the President rode in front dressed in civilian attire. The rangers wore blue overalls, chaps and spurs. They went into Little Yosemite Valley for lunch. Here they encountered a considerable crowd of valley visitors, since it had been widely advertised in the papers that the President was visiting the park.

There was considerable disagreement in the matter of plans for the Presidential visit. The President wanted a roughing trip and through Muir such a trip had been worked out. On the other hand, Mr. John Stevens, Guardian of the Valley under State administration, and certain of the commissioners, especially Jack Wilson from San Francisco, had made plans for a large celebration. The Chris Jorgensen studio home had been set aside for the President’s official use. A cook had been engaged from one of the best hotels in San Francisco to serve a banquet. The commissioner had arranged a considerable display of fireworks, which John Degnan claims amounted to some $1800 worth.

So there was considerable party awaiting the President at the top of Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite. The President requested that all the people be kept at a distance in order that he could carry out his desire for a “roughing trip,” so everybody was kept at a respectful distance.

When the party reached Camp Curry at 2 P.M., they found a big crowd of women in front of the camp. They had formed a line across the road in an attempt to stop the President. They all wanted to shake hands with him. Charlie Leidig states he was riding second in line with a Winchester rifle and six-shooter. His horse was a high spirited animal. The President said, “I am very much annoyed, couldn’t you do something?” Leidig replied, “follow me.” He gave spurs to his horse and as he reared, women fell apart and the President’s party went through the gap. The President waved his hat to the group in the road.

Accompanied by five or six members of his party, the President walked back across the Sentinel Bridge to his horse. Muir had accompanied the President to the Jorgensen studio. The original party of five mounted their horses and started down the valley to pick a campsite near Bridalveil Falls where Muir had suggested they spend the last night in camp. They went down the south side of the river followed by a big string of people on horseback, in buggies, surries, and others on foot. Leidig stated there must have been between 300 or 500, or possibly 1000 of them in the crowd, filling the meadows. As they reached their camping places on a grassy slope just south of the present road through Bridalveil Meadows, the President said to Leidig, “These people annoy me. Can you get rid of them?” Charlie said he walked out and told the crowd that the president was very tired and asked them to leave. They went — some of them even on tiptoe, so as not to annoy their President.

When Charlie returned to the campsite the President said, “Charlie I am hungry as Hell. Cook any damn thing you wish. How long will it take?”

Charlie told him it would take about 30 minutes, so the President lay on his bed of blankets and went to sleep and snored so loud that Leidig could hear him even above the crackling of the campfire.

After dinner, Muir and the President went out into the meadow until way after dark. When they returned they sat around the campfire where the President told them of his lion hunting trips.

People came again in the morning. Crowds could be seen all through the brush. Leidig kept them away. The stage came down containing the President’s official party. After breakfast, the President and Muir got into the stage and as they left the President called Leidig and Leonard to him and said, “Boys, I am leaving you. Good-bye, and God Bless you.”

__________

There’s one other account, that of Roosevelt himself. Part he wrote for a periodical, and then re-worded for his memoirs.

__________

Our greatest nature lover and nature writer, the man who has done most in securing for the American people the incalculable benefit of appreciation of wild nature in his own land, is John Burroughs. Second only to John Burroughs, and in some respects ahead even of John Burroughs, was John Muir. Ordinarily, the man who loves the woods and mountains, the trees, the flowers, and the wild things, has in him some indefinable quality of charm, which appeals even to those sons of civilization who care for little outside of paved streets and brick walls. John Muir was a fine illustration of this rule. He was by birth a Scotchman – a tall and spare man, with the poise and ease natural to him who has lived much alone under conditions of labor and hazard. He was a dauntless soul, and also one brimming over with friendliness and kindliness.

He was emphatically a good citizen. Not only are his books delightful, not only is he the author to whom all men turn when they think of the Sierras and northern glaciers, and the giant trees of the California slope, but he was also – what few nature lovers are – a man able to influence contemporary thought and action on the subjects to which he had devoted his life. He was a great factor in influencing the thought of California and the thought of the entire country so as to secure the preservation of those great natural phenomena – wonderful canyons, giant trees, slopes of flower-spangled hillsides – which make California a veritable Garden of the Lord.

It was my good fortune to know John Muir. He had written me, even before I met him personally, expressing his regret that when Emerson came to see the Yosemite, his (Emerson’s) friends would not allow him to accept John Muir’s invitation to spend two or three days camping with him, so as to see the giant grandeur of the place under surroundings more congenial than those of a hotel piazza or a seat on a coach. I had answered him that if ever I got in his neighborhood I should claim from him the treatment that he had wished to accord Emerson. Later, when as President I visited the Yosemite, John Muir fulfilled the promise he had at that time made to me. He met me with a couple of pack mules, as well as with riding mules for himself and myself, and a first-class packer and cook, and I spent a delightful three days and two nights with him.

The first night we camped in a grove of giant sequoias. It was clear weather, and we lay in the open, the enormous cinnamon-colored trunks rising about us like the columns of a vaster and more beautiful cathedral than was ever conceived by any human architect. One incident surprised me not a little. Some thrushes – I think they were Western hermit-thrushes – were singing beautifully in the solemn evening stillness. I asked some question concerning them of John Muir, and to my surprise found that he had not been listening to them and knew nothing about them. Once or twice I had been off with John Burroughs, and had found that, although he was so much older than I was, his ear and his eye were infinitely better as regards the sights and sounds of wildlife, or at least of the smaller wildlife, and I was accustomed unhesitatingly to refer to him regarding any bird note that puzzled me. But John Muir, I found, was not interested in the small things of nature unless they were unusually conspicuous. Mountains, cliffs, trees, appealed to him tremendously, but birds did not unless they possessed some very peculiar and interesting. In the same way, he knew nothing of the wood mice; but the more conspicuous beasts, such as bear and deer, for example, he could tell much about.

All next day we traveled through the forest. Then a snow-storm came on, and at night we camped on the edge of the Yosemite, under the branches of a magnificent silver fir, and very warm and comfortable we were, and a very good dinner we had before we rolled up in our tarpaulins and blankets for the night. The following day we went down into the Yosemite and through the valley, camping in the bottom among the timber.

There was a delightful innocence and good will about the man, and an utter inability to imagine that anyone could either take or give offense. Of this I had an amusing illustration just before we parted. We were saying goodbye when his expression suddenly changed, and he remarked that he had totally forgotten something. He was intending to go to the Old World with a great tree lover and tree expert from the Eastern States who possessed a somewhat crotchety temper. He informed me that his friend had written him, asking him to get from me personal letters to the Russian Czar and the Chinese Emperor; and when I explained to him that I could not give personal letters to foreign potentates, he said: “Oh, well, read the letter yourself, and that will explain just what I want.” Accordingly, he thrust the letter on me. It contained not only the request which he had mentioned, but also a delicious preface, which, with the request, ran somewhat as follows:

“I hear Roosevelt is coming out to see you. He takes a sloppy, unintelligent interest in forests, although he is altogether too much under the influence of that creature Pinchot, and you had better get from him letters to the Czar of Russia and the Emperor of China, so that we may have better opportunity to examine the forests and trees of the Old World.”

Of course I laughed heartily as I read the letter, and said, “John, do you remember exactly the words in which this letter was couched?” Whereupon a look of startled surprise came over his face, and he said: “Good gracious! there was something unpleasant about you in it; wasn’t there? I had forgotten. Give me the letter back.”

So I gave him back the letter, telling him that I appreciated it far more than if it had not contained the phrases he had forgotten, and that while I could not give him and his companion letters to the two rulers in question, I would give him letters to our Ambassadors, which would bring about the same result.

John Muir talked even better than he wrote. HIs greatest influence was always upon those who were brought into personal contact with him. But he wrote well, and while his books have not the peculiar charm that a very, very few other writers on similar subjects have had, they will nevertheless last long. Our generation owes much to John Muir.

_________

JASON: Roosevelt returned to Washington enthusiastic about conserving America’s wild lands. While other’s thought the resources of the West could never be depleted, he now knew better. He pushed Congress to pass laws to protect wilderness. He transferred the management of the forest reserves to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, establishing the U.S. Forest Service. He created national monuments, parks, and wildlife sanctuaries — saving approximately 230 million acres of public land.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias has been closed to the public since July 2015 for a major renovation, which is nearly finished. Located near Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance, the area receives more than 1 million visitors a year and includes roughly 550 giant sequoia trees, some of which are among the largest trees in the world, reaching 285 feet tall and 2,000 years old.

During the rehabilitation phase, crews have torn up asphalt surrounding trees, replaced pit toilets with modern flush toilets, and removed the gift shop and tram rides, which featured a chugging diesel truck pulling wagons full of tourists through the area. The project includes improvements to natural hydrology, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, an improved welcome plaza and a new energy efficient tram.

The nearly $40 million project, which was scheduled to conclude in late 2016 but was delayed due to heavy winter conditions, is set to re-open June 15th at 9 AM.

Along with the ancient giant sequoias, Southern California’s Yosemite National Park is known for its waterfalls, deep valleys, grand meadows,=, and much more within its 1,200 square miles of mountainous scenery.

The park is open year-round, but millions of tourists visit in the summer, so if you’re not staying in the park, it’s best to get there early. In the park, you can stay at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel or one of the private lodgings nearby.

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds; some are reservable while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. From April through October, reservations can be difficult to come by, and the first-come, first-served campgrounds often fill up early each day. 95% of Yosemite National Park is designated as wilderness, making backcountry camping a very popular activity. A permit is required.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.

 


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

California Condors

How do you save a species of bird with a population of 22 living? A controversial plan hatched nearly three decades ago has condors soaring over Pinnacles National Park again. How they did it, and why there is still trouble ahead, on this episode of America’s National Parks.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Pinnacles National Park – National Park Service Website

Profiles of the Pinnacles Condors – Pinnacles National Park Website

Condor Viewing Tips – Pinnacles National Park Website

Navajo Bridge – Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Website


Transcript

Thirty-five years ago, we almost lost North America’s largest bird. There were 22 known in existence. A controversial choice was made to save them, that lead to years of grudges between conservationists’. And the fight for its survival is far from over.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the California Condor, and one of their magnificent homes, the rock spires of Pinnacles National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

_____

The California condor was described by English naturalist George Shaw in 1797 as vultur californianus. They are a uniform black, except large, triangular patches or bands of white on the underside of the wings. They have gray legs and feet, a white bill, brownish-red eyes, and a ruffle of black feathers that stand out around their neck. The skin of their naked, vulturous head and neck can flush red, an emotional signal to others.

Their glorious wingspan ranges from about 8 to 10 feet – the largest of any North American bird. Condors are so large that, gliding with their wings spread stiff, they are often mistaken for a distant airplane.

Condors are scavengers. Feasting on the carcasses of large mammals. Before humans settled North America, when mammoth and other mega-creatures roamed the land, the California Condor thrived across the continent. As those giant mammals died out, the condor’s territory was reduced and their numbers shrank. Five hundred years ago, they still roamed across the American Southwest and West Coast. They live in rocky shrubland, coniferous forests, and oak savannas, often hanging out near cliffs or large trees, which they use as nesting sites. They have been known to travel up to 160 miles in search for food, and can live for up to 60 years.

As the human development of the west expanded, the territory of these magnificent birds was encroached upon. They would often eat the lead bullets used to kill their meal by a hunter, poisoning them. They flew into power lines, and were poached. By 1982, there were 22 known California Condors in the wild.

The US Fish and Wildlife service set out on a controversial mission to save the Condors from extinction. Over the following four years, all the known living condors were trapped and brought into captivity. Condors no longer roamed the skies of Southern California.

The goal was to breed the captive condors and release their offspring into the wild. They were taken to the Los Angeles and San Diego Zoos where a breeding program began. Some conservationists thought that this was the end of the Condor. That, even if the breeding were successful, the captive-born offspring wouldn’t be the same. Conservationist David Brower said that they would be nothing more than “flying pigs.”

But the efforts pressed on. Condors form long-term pair bonds, producing one egg per nesting attempt and, if everything goes well, a chick every year and a half. Through careful breeding by the zoos and a Conservation Genetics team, sufficient numbers of chicks were produced to allow the first releases of California condors back to the wild in 1992.

Flash forward to today, there are nearly 450 living California Condors, 230 of which are in the wild. All released birds have number tags and radio transmitters so biologists can track their progress in the wild. The captive breeding programs have expanded to other zoos, and nests in the wild are now producing chicks. It’s one of the greatest species recoveries ever made.

It’s not all good news though. The reintroduction has brought challenges. Some of the released condors did have behavior issues. Being in such close contact with humans made them social and comfortable with us. A small gang invaded a home, destroying a satellite dish and ripping up a mattress. In Arizona, a young condor invaded a campsite, where he pulled a loaded gun from a backpack and walked around holding it by the trigger. These behaviors led to new breading protocols, keeping human interactions to a minimum, and the birds released today are more like their captured predecessors.

And danger still lurks around every corner. Condors are still dying. Wildfires have become a huge challenge for them as climate change reshapes the land that fires consume. Collisions with power lines are still common. Adults find bits of undigestable trash and try to feed it to their young. Conservationists go as far as removing trash from the nest and replacing it with bone chips, which the young eat as a source of calcium.

Their eggs are thin, still a product of the DDT that was dumped in the ocean through the early seventies. Marine mammal carcasses still have derivatives of the chemical, which the condors then eat.

And it’s very clear that lead poisoning is still their leading cause of death. 85 condors died between 1992 and 2009, 35 due to lead toxicosis. A portion of the population is trapped and treated for lead poisoning every year, and many conservationists say the species will not ever be self-sustaining until the lead problem is addressed.

Carcasses are left at provisioning stations for the birds to feed on, but ironically, the birds that are the most independent are the ones most likely to encounter a lead bullet, particularly during deer hunting season.

Without human intervention, the California condor would once again face extinction. Over 5 million dollars is spent annually on the effort, and the funding is on shaky ground. Most of it comes from private sources such as zoos and wildlife funds. Less than a million comes from the federal government.

Central California’s Pinnacles National Park joined the California Condor Recovery Program as a release and management site in 2003. The park currently hosts 86 wild condors, with biologists managing and monitoring the population. Juvenile condors are transferred to Pinnacles from the captive breeding facilities at the age of about a year and a half. They are placed into a flight pen with an adult mentor bird and allowed to acclimate to their new environment for at least two months. This is one of the ways biologists instill safe behavior and keep the birds from interacting with humans. They’re outfitted with their transmitters and ID tags, and leave the pen one at a time. Park biologists closely monitor the condors as they take their first wild flights, ensuring they find appropriate roost and feeding sites.

Condor staff and volunteers can often be seen tracking along the trails within surrounding areas, communicating with other biologists as they watch the entire California population. They are can recover deceased condors from the field and submit them for analysis, so that they can determine the cause of death and monitor the threats facing the condors. The birds are trapped twice a year when transmitters are repaired and blood is tested for lead.

In the late fall, park biologists work to identify potential breeding pairs for the following spring. They are monitored for breeding displays and are observed to determine breeding territories. Once a nest is identified, biologists do monthly health checks on the chick until it is four months old, at which point it gets its own transmitter and tag.

Lead has already been removed from waterfowl ammunition in the US, and some California and Oregon legislation is in place to reduce its availability for hunting big game, but there are no restrictions in the other states condors roam. If efforts to eliminate lead bullets succeed, the condors could one day be removed from the endangered species list. It’s a realistic goal, but one that will require legislative action before the 5 million dollar per year funding for condor recovery dries up.

_____

A few million years of explosions, lava flows, and landslides created the 30-mile wide volcanic field that was then split down the middle by the San Andreas Fault, followed by water, wind, and chemical erosion, forming what we know today as Pinnacles National Park, 70 miles southeast of San Jose.

The serene rock formations are visited by 250 thousand visitors hikers, climbers and nature lovers each year. Overhead, Rocks the size of houses, tower above as you make your way through cool, dark caves formed by massive boulders wedged in ravines, providing a home for Townsend big-eared bats and red-legged frogs. 32 miles of trails are decorated during the spring with a variety of wildflowers, pollinated by more species of bees than any other known place in the world. Bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and mountain lion all call Pinnacles their home, as well as, of course, the California Condor.

There are 27 free-flying condors managed by Pinnacles National Park. They have joined with the 35 condors that soar over Big Sur, forming one central California flock. Since they don’t migrate, they can be observed in the park year round, but are still a rare site. With a little luck and some patience, you might spot one.

One of the most common viewing areas is the High Peaks in the early morning or early evening. The High Peaks can be reached from either entrance to the park, but the hike is strenuous. Another location that the condors spend time around is the ridge just southeast of the campground. Two spotting scopes have been placed in the Campground that may help you get a closer look.

Pinnacles is most popular in the cooler months, especially the spring when the grasses are green and a variety of wildflowers can be seen along any trail. Fall and winter are also excellent times to visit.

The campground is located on the eastern side of the park and is open year-round. It offers family and group tent sites, as well as RV sites with electric hookups. Flush toilets and drinking water are provided, and showers are available for a fee. A general store with basic foods and camping supplies is located on-site. A swimming pool is located within the campground and is open from April through September.

Condors are spotted from time to time in other national parks, like Zion and the Grand Canyon. A great place to spot one is on the historic Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River at Marble Canyon, at the south end of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. They like to hang out on the girders that support the bridge. It’s where I saw my first wild condor, the one that inspired this episode.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.





Podcast Episodes

The Grand Dame of the Everglades

At the southern tip of Florida lie the Everglades, a crucial ecosystem to America and the world. Everglades National Park has spent its entire life under siege, with Marjory Stoneman Douglas out front as its chief warrior.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Or Download this episode (right click and save)


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

“The Everglades: River of Grass” -by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Buy the seminal text on Amazon

“The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service”
A great collection of stories from National Park Service rangers and employees.

Everglades National Park Official Website

Friends of the Everglades Website
A great bio of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and a timeline of her life

Everglades Digital Library 
Audio interviews with Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Wikipedia
One of the more thorough Wikipedia biographies you’ll find

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Donate to Marjory’s namesake school, which suffered one of the worst school shootings in history in February.


Transcript

“Back in 1870, when only eighty-five people lived along the coast of southeastern Florida, an estimated two million wading birds inhabited the Everglades during dry seasons. During the late nineteenth century, plume-hunting reduced these birds to only several hundred thousand. This dramatic loss spurred protective laws in Florida — and in New York, where the plumes had been shipped to millinery houses. Thus protected, the wading-bird population rebounded to near its original level. Then, in the 1940s and after, the character of the Everglades itself began to change. As South Florida grew, the Everglades shrank, its waters controlled for man’s uses. By the mid-1970s, wading-bird numbers had dropped back to a few hundred thousand, about 10 percent of what it had been a century before. Biologists actively study these birds, looking for clues that might lead to stopping or even reversing the decline. As yet the only thing that is certain is that life in the Everglades is more fragile than anyone ever thought.”

That’s a passage from Jack de Golia’s “Everglades: The Story Behind the Scenery,” from 1978.

I’m Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks, Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of Florida’s southern tip. It’s the first federal land protected not for beauty but, but for conservation, but the creation of the park was only the beginning. The Everglades have spent the last 100 years under siege. Our story is of the woman who protected them time and time again, Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

These are the opening words from Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ seminal book “The Everglades: River of Grass”:

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them…”

An apt description of the land, but also of Marjory herself. A true American hero, whose story is anything but average.

As a young child in Minnesota, before the turn of the 20th century, Marjory Stoneman’s father Frank read her “The Song of Hiawatha,” Longfellow’s Native American lore poem, set in the Pictured Rocks on the south shore of Lake Superior. The young Marjory burst into tears upon realizing a tree would give its life to provide Hiawatha the wood for a canoe.

At the age of six, Marjory’s parents separated. Her father’s failed business ventures caused her mother Lillian, a concert violinist, to take Marjory to her grandparents Massachusetts home, where she lived with her mother, aunt, and grandparents, who disparaged her father whenever they had the chance. Throughout her childhood, Marjory, who suffered from night terrors, would watch as her mother battled with mental illness, a battle she was never fully able to overcome.

Marjory escaped the turmoils at home in books, eventually beginning to write herself. By her late teens, she had multiple short stories published and had been awarded a prize by the Boston Herald for a story about a boy who watches a sunrise from a canoe.

But as her mother’s health declined, Marjory took on many of the family responsibilities, eventually managing the family finances. Despite her burdens, her aunt and grandmother sent her off for Wellesley College in 1908 recognizing that she needed to begin her own life. A model student, she graduated with a BA in English in 1912 – her mother died of breast cancer shortly after.

Marjory Stoneman met Kenneth Douglas, a newspaper editor 30-years her senior in 1914. In a whirlwind romance, they married in three months. It’s not exactly known what his misdeeds were, but it became clear that Kenneth Douglas was a con artist. Marjory stayed with him while he spent six months in jail for writing a bad check, but when he tried to scam her estranged father, she ended the marriage.

The con turned out to be fortuitous, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas was reunited with Frank Stoneman, whom she had not seen since moving away. In the fall of 1915, she left Massachusetts for Miami to live with her father who was the editor of the paper which would eventually become the Miami Herald.

Already an accomplished writer, Marjory joined the paper as a society columnist, but since fewer than 5,000 people lived in Miami at the time, the news was slow, and she’d have to make up many of the people and stories. Residents would ask about the characters they had never met, and she’d concoct elaborate accounts of their recent arrival to Miami.

In print, Frank Stoneman intensely attacked the governor of Florida, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, for his endeavors to drain the Everglades. When Stoneman ran for a circuit judgeship and won, Broward refused to certify the election. Frank Stoneman was referred to as “Judge” for the rest of his life without ever taking the bench.

In 1917, as World War I was raging in Europe, the Navy sent a ship to enlist men and women into the reserves. Marjory was assigned to cover the story of a local woman who was to be the first Miami woman to enlist. The woman didn’t show, so Marjory decided that she would take her place. She joined the Navy, became a yoeman first class, and was stationed in Miami.

Already leading a tough life, forced into early maturity, the military didn’t suit Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She was no fan of rising early, and the officers were not fans of her grammar corrections. She requested and was granted a discharge, at which time she joined the American Red Cross, who sent her off to Paris. There, she cared for refugees until the war ended and her father cabled for her to come home and take over as the assistant editor at the now Miami Herald.

Her new column, “The Galley,” made Stoneman Douglas a local celebrity. “The Galley” was about whatever she wanted it to be about that week. She spoke out for responsible urban planning when Miami’s population increased ten-fold in a decade. She supported women’s suffrage and civil rights, and opposed prohibition and tariffs. She began to talk about Florida’s landscape and geography.

By 1923, her success and the pressure of writing her column and conflicts with the paper’s publisher got to Marjory. She began to experience blackouts and was diagnosed with nerve fatigue. She left the Herald and began to recover by sleeping late and writing short stories. The Saturday Evening Post published 40 of them, along with those of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Most were fiction. Her protagonists were often independent women who encountered social injustices. The people and animals of the Everglades were the background of others, and some were non-fiction. “Wings” addressed the slaughter of Everglade birds for fashionable ladies’ hats.

She was commissioned to write a pamphlet called “An argument for the establishment of a tropical botanical garden in South Florida, causing her to become a fixture at garden clubs where she delivered speeches. She became a part of the Miami theater scene, writing one-act plays, one loosely modeled on the life of Al Capone, who’s henchmen showed up to check in on it. In 1926 she designed and built the cottage in which she lived for the rest of her life. Becoming ever more the socialite, she became a forceful pioneer in the fights for feminism, racial justice, and conservation. She fought against poverty, slumlords, and poor sanitation.

And she fought for the Everglades.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas served on the committee that argued for the creation of Everglades National Park, along with the force behind the idea, Ernest F. Coe. In 1934 Everglades National Park was designated by Congress, but it took another 13 years to acquire land and secure funding.

In the early 40s, Douglas was approached to contribute to a book series called the “Rivers of America.” She was asked to write about the Miami River, which she said was about “an inch long,” and instead persuaded the publisher to allow her to write about the Everglades. She spent five years researching the little-known ecology of the area, spending time with a geologist who discovered that South Florida’s sole freshwater source was the Biscayne Aquifer, which was filled by the Everglades. “The Everglades: River of Grass” was published in 1947 and sold out in a month. The book’s first line, “There are no other Everglades in the world” is easily the most famous line written about South Florida. She wrote about an ecosystem inescapably connected to South Florida’s people and cultures.

Everglades National Park officially opened in 1947, the same year River of Grass was published. The book became one of the most famous environmental calls to action in history, causing citizens and politicians to take notice. It was, in fact, a blueprint for many of the Everglades restoration projects that are still on-going today.

By the 1960s, the Everglades were in imminent danger of disappearing forever. In response to floods caused by hurricanes in 1947, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project was established to construct flood control mechanisms in the Everglades. 1,400 miles of canals and levees were built over the course of 20 years. The C-38 canal, the last built, straightened the Kissimmee River, inflicting catastrophic damage on the habitats and water quality of South Florida.

Douglas initially gave the project her approval, as it promised to deliver much-needed water to the shrinking Everglades. But, in reality, it diverted water away from the Everglades to meet sugarcane farmers’ needs. The Army Corps of Engineers refused to release water to Everglades National Park until much of the land was unrecognizable.

Douglas fought fervently against the Corps of Engineers and Sugarcane Farmers, saying “their mommies must have never let them play with mud pies, so now they play with cement.” She was giving a speech addressing the harmful practices of the Army Corps of Engineers when the colonel in attendance dropped his pen. As he stooped to pick it up, she stopped her speech and said, “Colonel! You can crawl under that table and hide, but you can’t get away from me!”

In 1969, at age 79, Douglas formed Friends of the Everglades. Dues were $1.00, and the purpose was to raise awareness of the potential devastation a huge jetport slated for construction in the fragile wetlands would cause. Due to Marjory’s perseverance, and the support of her 3000 Friends of the Everglades members and other environmental groups, President Nixon scrapped funding for the project after one runway was built, which still exists today.

Douglas spent the rest of her life defending the Everglades. In his introduction to her autobiography “Voice of the River,” John Rothchild described her appearance at 1973 at a public meeting as “half the size of her fellow speakers and she wore huge dark glasses, which along with the huge floppy hat made her look like Scarlet O’Hara as played by Igor Stravinsky. When she spoke, everybody stopped slapping mosquitoes and more or less came to order. She reminded us all of our responsibility to nature and I don’t remember what else. Her voice had the sobering effect of a one-room schoolmarm’s. The tone itself seemed to tame the rowdiest of the local stone crabbers, plus the developers, and the lawyers on both sides. I wonder if it didn’t also intimidate the mosquitoes. . . . The request for a Corps of Engineers permit was eventually turned down. This was no surprise to those of us who’d heard her speak.”

Douglas also opposed the drainage of a suburb in Dade County named East Everglades. After the county approved building permits, the land flooded as it had for centuries. Homeowners demanded the Army Corps of Engineers drain their neighborhoods, and Marjory was the only opposition. At a 1983 hearing, the 93-year-old was booed and shouted at by the residents. “Can’t you boo any louder than that?” she said. “Look. I’m an old lady. I’ve been here since eight o’clock. It’s now eleven. I’ve got all night, and I’m used to the heat.” County commissioners eventually decided not to drain the land.

Until the day she died Douglas continued to fight for her causes. She served as a charter member of the first American Civil Liberties Union chapter organized in the South. She spoke on the floor of the Florida state legislature, urging them to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. She bolstered the Florida Rural Legal Services, a group that worked to protect migrant farm workers employed by the sugarcane industry. She co-founded the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Libraries and served as its first president.

The Florida Department of Natural Resources named its headquarters in Tallahassee after her in 1980, to which she said she would have rather seen the Everglades restored than her name on a building. In 1986 the National Parks Conservation Association instituted the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award, honoring individuals who advocate and fight for the protection of the National Park System. And in 1991, at the age of 100, blind and near deaf, Douglas was visited by Queen Elizabeth II, to whom she gave a signed copy of “The Everglades: River of Grass.”

Douglas asked that trees be planted on her hundredth birthday in lieu of gifts, resulting in over 100,000 planted across the state of Florida, including a bald cypress on the lawn of the governor’s mansion.

In 1993, President Clinton awarded Marjory Stoneman Douglas the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian. She donated it to Wellesley College.

Douglas once said that “Conservation is now a dead word… You can’t conserve what you haven’t got.” She died in 1998 at the age of 108. Her ashes were scattered in the Everglades she worked so tirelessly to preserve.

That was Abigail Trabue.

Daniel Beard, who would be the first superintendent of the Everglades National Park, wrote in 1938 that “The southern Florida wilderness scenery is a study in halftones, not bright, broad strokes of a full brush as is the case of most of our other national parks. There are no knife-edged mountains protruding up into the sky. There are no valleys of any kind. No glaciers exist, no gaudy canyons, no geysers, no mighty trees unless we except the few royal palms, not even a rockbound coast with the spray of ocean waves — none of the things we are used to seeing in our parks. Instead, there are lonely distances, intricate and monotonous waterways, birds, sky, and water. To put it crudely, there is nothing (and we include the bird rookeries) in the Everglades that will make Mr. Jonnie Q. Public suck in his breath. This is not an indictment against the Everglades as a national park, because “breath sucking” is still not the thing we are striving for in preserving wilderness areas.”

The sentiment aside, Daniel Beard was wrong. There’s plenty to suck in your breath at in the Everglades. No, you won’t be brought to your knees like many are at the first sight of the Grand Canyon, but I challenge anyone to tell me of another national park with such an array of wildlife immediately on display. It is, indeed, a magical place. But it’s true, more than beauty, The Everglades National Park is an important place.

There’s a great book called “The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service.” It’s a collection of stories from park service employees and volunteers. In it, Ranger David Kronk talks of a 1990 visit to the Everglades from President George H.W. Bush. Kronk lead the President and some children who were finishing a 3-day educational program on a walk. He asked the children to tell the President what the Everglades meant to them. Among some other pithy answers, one girl described the limited water supply in South Florida, saying we need to conserve and share the water so that there is enough for the animals and plants in the park.

Later that month, President Bush would mention meeting some budding young environmentalists at the Everglades in his State of the Union address. An eight-year study was commissioned by Congress the following year, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project was authorized in 2000. At a cost of more than $10.5 billion and with a 35-year timeline, it is the largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States.

To help restore water flow, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in 2011.

Though the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project continues today, it has been compromised by politics and funding problems, and the Everglades are still in danger.

The primary access to the Everglades National Park is through Florida City, 30 miles southeast of Miami, at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. A few miles into the park is the Royal Palm Visitors Center, where you can hike two popular wheelchair-accessible half-mile trails, seeing the marshes, alligators and wading birds, along with Royal Palms and Gumbo-Limbo trees with their peeling bark.

You can then journey on the main park road 38 miles to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the southern tip of the state. On the way, you’ll wander through the parks various ecosystems, and can stop at three short walks, including an overlook where you can get a view of Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s “River of Grass,” and another, where you can see the largest Mahogany tree in the U.S.

At Flamingo, you’ll see the true diversity of the park’s waterfowl. Spoonbills, ibises, snowy egrets, blue herons, and the like, wading among the mangrove trees. The area was heavily damaged during hurricane Irma, but the campground has partially re-opened. Boat tours that depart here have been suspended, but canoe and kayak rentals are now available again.

From the north on US 41, visitors can enter the park at Shark Valley, named because its water flows southwest toward Shark River. Here, you can walk, bike, or ride a tram along a 15-mile loop road and see some of the park’s best wildlife concentrations. The Shark Valley observation tower offers a 360-degree view of the Everglades, and a bird’s-eye view of alligators, turtles, fish, and birds.

From the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in the town of Everglades City, you can launch your boat or take a scheduled sightseeing boat tour to explore the vast mangrove estuary of the Ten Thousand Islands.

Backcountry camping, accessible by boat, is available from both the Flamingo and Gulf Coast areas. You can take an 8-day canoe trip down the maze of waterways, camping on elevated platforms along the way.

The park is open year-round, but summers can be steamy, hot, and buggy.

You may have heard Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s name in the news recently. The Florida high school that suffered one of the world’s deadliest school shootings on February 14th is named after her. You can donate to the school at msdstrong.us.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and produced by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.”

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


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