Although the two rims of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison are at times a literal stone’s throw apart, traveling from rim to rim takes a couple hours. There are two routes: west down into the Uncompahgre Valley and around the Gunnison uplift into the foothills of the West Elk Mountains, or east through Cimarron and along the Gunnison Gorge through Curecanti National Recreation Area. Mid-morning of Monday, August 30, we opted for the more scenic eastern route through another National Park unit.
Wednesday, October 30 we needed to say farewell to our campsite and get all of us, including Rick with his hurt knee, out of Havasu Canyon and up to Haulapai Hilltop ten miles away and some 2,000 feet up. Although our time in the Canyon was ending, our trip would not actually finish until Saturday. We still had some Americana time coming at a Route 66 roadside attraction, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas on Halloween.
Lassen Volcanic National Park protects over 106,000 acres at the southern end of the Cascade Range in northern California, including Lassen Peak. Lassen Peak, southernmost in a string of legendary volcanoes (Shasta, Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, Baker) in a range that stretches north to British Columbia, is quiet today, but it was in the midst of an eruption just a century ago. In 1907, the year after passage of the Antiquities Act gave him the power, President Theodore Roosevelt declared two National Monuments in the Cascade Range east of Redding, California: Lassen Peak National Monument and Cinder Cone National Monument. Seven years later, in May 1914, long dormant Lassen Peak began to erupt (after an estimated 27,000 years of inactivity). The following year, in May 1915, the mountain exploded, sending a column of ash and steam 30,000 feet into the air and partially collapsing in on itself with flows of mud, ash, and pumice traveling some twenty-five miles from the crater. Major steam eruptions continued into 1921, with some 400 total eruptions between 1914 and 1921. In August 1916 with the eruption very much ongoing, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation combining the National Monuments and expanding them into Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park had long been among the Parks I’d been most excited to visit in this whole journey. In fact, more often than not, I’d cited it as the Park I was most excited to visit. Now just past noon on Friday, September 13, having finished packing up our campsite on the beach, we were on our way there.
Redwood National and State Parks protect over 138,000 acres of far northern California coast, old growth Redwood groves, second growth coastal forest, and watersheds large and small, including the mouth of the Klamath River. Interest in protecting the fantastic groves began in earnest with the creation of the Save the Redwoods League in 1918 (only two years after the creation of the Park Service). In a pattern that mirrors the creation of Indiana Dunes National Park, first National Park Service director, Stephen Mather, was involved in some of the early protection efforts, but corporate lumber interests blocked creation of a National Park. Also like Indiana Dunes, the state stepped in, creating four California State Parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s to protect the trees: Jedediah Smith State Park, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and (a bit further south) Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Again like Indiana Dunes, federal protection would not come until the 1960s when Redwood National Park was established by Congress in partnership with the Johnson administration. Ten years later, in 1978, 48,000 acres were added to Redwood National Park to protect the watershed of Redwood Creek before it entered the Park. Unlike Indiana Dunes, in 1994, the administrative functions of the National Park and the three northernmost state parks were combined.
Journeying from San Francisco to Redwood National Park was our adventure for Tuesday, September 10. It’s a long drive (some five and a half hours) even going the most direct route. We intended though, to take the opportunity to drive up the California coast on Highway 1. This would at least double the driving time. But here the journey was absolutely the destination.
Perhaps this is what our national parks hold for us: stories, of who we have been and who we might become—a reminder that as human beings our histories harbor both darkness and light. To live in the United States of America and tell only one story, from one point of view, diminishes all of us.
– Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land
Monday, September 9 was our trip to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The twenty-two acre island, now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was once a rounded hill in the valley that would become San Francisco Bay after sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age. During the Gold Rush in the middle of the nineteenth century, the island held a lighthouse and a military fort. Later, the fort was converted to a military prison with a cellhouse at the top of the island completed in 1912. In 1934, the Federal Department of Corrections took control of the island and turned it into the nation’s first and most notorious maximum security prison. It served that function until 1963 when it was shut down by the Kennedy Administration. The island languished for over six years until it was occupied by Native American rights activists in November 1969. The occupation lasted nineteen months. The following year, the National Park Service purchased the island to add it to the newly established Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Shortly after taking ownership of the island, the Park Service began offering tours of the facilities in what had been intended to be a short term use while the agency decided what to do with Alcatraz. The tours proved to be so popular that they have continued for some forty-five years with annual visitation now topping 1.4 million tourists.
On Friday, September 6, Sean and I began what was our longest trip since our honeymoon in 2015. The night before, we had quietly toasted at home my final day as Director of Communications at Openlands. After our trip, I’d be starting a new adventure as the founder of Bold Bison Communications and Consulting. We had a lot of packing to do, so we celebrated with a couple drinks and some delivery Brazilian food for dinner. We were both behind on our packing since he’d had to spend a portion of the previous week in Philadelphia for work and I’d been wrapping things at my former employer.
Aquarius Plateau and Sinking Ship (foreground) from Bryce Canyon National Park
On Friday, September 9, 2016 Sean and I began our trip down the Grand Staircase with an evening flight to Phoenix. More often than not, this was our modus operandi, to fly out after work, stay overnight near the airport, and begin the trip proper on the ground in the morning wherever we were. That Friday, I was more than ready to be gone. It had been a very long week at work, culminating in issues with a new vendor. (I’d ultimately be proven right in my assessment of their shoddy service.) But either way, it would be good to do some hiking in a place I’d wanted to visit since childhood.
In August 2016, in the midst of our Centennial Year goal of eight National Parks, Sean and I unexpectedly visited three National Park Service units that were not National Parks.
After having spent ten days in late May in California, in August Sean and I spent another week in the state. It would ultimately be the second of three trips to California that we would make within nine months. The first trip’s goal was to visit our friend, Patrick, at the Getty and hit two National Parks: Yosemite and Channel Islands. While we were there, Sean mentioned that he’d likely be coming back in a few months as his firm rolled out a new software at its offices across the country. Back in May, I’d dismissed out of hand the idea of returning with him. But as the summer progressed, I found myself persuaded.
In August 2016, Sean’s firm sent him to Los Angeles and San Francisco for a week. On Sunday afternoon, August 7, we were treated to spectacular aerial views of southern Utah and northern Arizona. In particular, we were able to see Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and Grand Canyon National Park, all from the comfortable cruising altitude of American Airlines Flight 2220 from Chicago O’Hare to LAX.