Friday, September 25, 2009

"Ah, Wilderness!" Kathleen sighed.

This week we've talked about Lois's trip to the Black Hills and the TV shows Cindy's looking forward to this fall, so I thought I'd continue with a look forward to a PBS series that begins on Sunday, some thoughts on the Black Hills (setting of many of my books), and a little family vacation nostalgia.

I just watched Colbert's interview with Ken Burns--two of my favorite people to spend TV time with--and set aside the next 6 Sundays on my calendar for Ken Burns's "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." (With "Mad Men" that'll be 3 hours straight tube time. Hmm.)

Here's what Tim Goodman says in the San Francisco Chronicle:

In "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" [Burns] once again teams with author and historian Dayton Duncan to get at the nature of how a country, in the midst of a land grab and increasing development and all kinds of political ambition, was able to step back, see the beauty in various spots across the country, and devise a plan to set those areas aside for future generations."

I love American history, and I love the way Ken Burns tells a story, so I know I'm going to enjoy this. I agree from the get-go with the premise. Had good ol' TR not "bullied" lawmakers to set aside some of the most beautiful places on the continent as public land, most of those place would have been destroyed. We take the parks for granted now, but this was a radical idea at the beginning of the 20th century. We'd been operating under the notion that land, like everything else, is there for the taking. The king or first flag (backed up by the biggest army) or the highest bidder got the goods. But a visit to the Black Hills gives us an idea of what would have happened to all these places without the National Park system. You've got the Black Hills National Forest, which is beautiful (with the exception of a few over-sized monuments, but that's just my aesthetic) and then you've got the
land of a hundred tourist traps and a thousand billboards. Yes, we've taken lots of family vacations there, and the kids loved panning for gold, but, really, way to ruin God's Country, folks. The contrast between national park land and the rest of the Black Hills is pretty astounding.

There are some privately owned places in the West that are protected and preserved by their owners. Lois blogged about the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, which inspired two of my books and counting. And Robert Redford has devoted his fortune to preserving a good chunk of the Rocky Mountains. But those places don't belong to the American people. The national parks do.

Hasn't everyone tucked away a trove of memories and photos from these places, from our own childhood and with our children? Here's one of mine: first family camping memory. I must have been five or six, and we had just moved to Idaho. We were camping beside one of those gorgeous mountain streams, and Daddy was fly fishing. He was used to fishing in the Potomac, but he was really getting into this casting thing. My little brother and I were playing on a big fallen log when we heard Daddy yell, "Duck!" Pretty sure it was duck. I dove for cover. Hadn't seen a bear yet, but I knew the mountains were full of them. Turned out Daddy had caught something on his hook. His nose. I remember watching Mama fuss over it--the thing had gone all the way through--until she cut the barb off and worked it back through. Then Daddy soldiered on--Clyde would've cowboyed up--with a new hook. And we had rainbow trout for supper.

Ah, Wilderness. Yep, I can do 12 hours with Ken Burns.

Family wilderness treks, anyone? Do you like to rough it, or are you strictly a hotel with all the amenities vacationer? How about when you were a kid? Did you explore the Mickey-less parks?

P.S. The first montage photo is from the PBS website. The other three are from the Black Hills area.


Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, I'm really looking forward to this series, too. And you're right-- our national parks are unique and amazing simply for existing. But to set aside some of the most beautiful and pristine places in our land-- I'm trying to think of any other country(especially in "sophistocated" Europe, where all things are supposedly more evolved and better than "American") where that happened. There are a few forests in Germany and mountains in Switzerland-- mostly left alone because they were considered royal property or were basically unusable. The whole concept of setting something aside for future generations or because the planet needs it --rainforest, anybody?-- is fairly modern.

Never camped with my family, but we hiked and spent nature time in the mountains near the wild Gauley River in West Virginia. I still remember the taste of wild "teaberry" from our walks in the woods. The leaves taste just like the gum. Anybody remember teaberry gum?

Cindy Gerard said...

DH and I LOVE the Black Hills, Kathy. We've made several trips there. I think they're one of our favorite spots because they are so accessible. and this series looks lovely.
As for roughing it - yep. Every once in a while I want to sleep with sand in my cot and dust in my eyes and pine needles in my food :o) Very up close and personal..

Helen Brenna said...

Kathy, I know it sounds cliche, but our national parks really are treasures. Thanks Teddy R!!

I grew up kind of roughing it - tough to do with 8 kids, but my parents - managed it. And I love roughing it as an adult. (Though I can see that changing as I age!!)

Been to the Black Hills and they are amazing. Yosemite is spectacular (or was, at least - it's been 20 years since I've been there) And I've also been to Denali in Alaska. Absolutely nothing like the wildlife you see up there. Moose walking up to your bus window. Grizzlies and wolves hunting by the rivers. Wow.

My favorite national park, though, is the little unknown one in northern Wisconsin that we've camped at so much these last several years. Small pleasures are sometimes the best.

Terry Odell said...

My mother's idea of 'roughing it' was renting a house at the beach where she'd still have to cook and clean. Imagine my surprise when years and years later, she invited family for a 50th anniversary 'cruise' on a small tri-miran, which was about 1 step up from camping as far as accommodations went. But they did have a cook.

Michele Hauf said...

My fondest memories are of camping as a kid! Every summer we'd pack up the Winnebago and go for two weeks. We did every National park, forest, and monument out there. Saw all the states except the 13 original colonies.
But now? I'm a hotel kind of chick. Unless the camper is new and comes with a microwave. ;-)

Emmanuelle said...

What great pictures !!! That's my dream to go there... seriously, can't think of a better place to go *sigh*

Kylie said...

I haven't been back to the Black Hills since a childhood trip. But when I retire I'd love to start doing more traveling in the States and would love doing the national parks.

I set a book in the Tuba City, Four corners area and now *have* to go there! I fell in love with the scenery when I was researching.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, Teaberry gum! I loved it, Betina.

Kylie, the 4 Corners area is magnificent. Our younger son went to school in Ft. Collins, CO, which gave us a chance to tramp around that area since he was really into archaeology at the time. Went to sites only his prof and others of that ilk knew about. Loved it. We've been to NM often but that was our first exploration of the 4 corners. Gorgeous!

lois greiman said...

Thanks for addressing this, Kathy. I hope there are always places for us all that will take our breath away. It's a beautiful world.

Candace said...

My family never camped when I was a child so my first experience of the natural wonders of our national parks came after I got married.

Joe and I have taken many road trips to and through national parks. A favorite area -- and one we have been back to many times - is the general four corners area: Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest, Zion Canyon, Canyon de Chelley. All wonderously beautiful!

We've taken a couple of trips to the Black Hills area, as well. The wild life (and by that I mean the animals) was great.

Debra Dixon said...

Roughing it ?? ::snort:: I two walls of my kitchen meet as glass windows. That's as close to nature as I like to get. (g)

But I'm from a family of wilderness, woods freaks. My uncle has spent his life in the wilderness and in retirement he's going everywhere that's hard to get to!

My family camped. We canoed down rivers. We still own some land on a river but we don't go much anymore.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Sorry, guys. Had my Loft class this morning, followed by unexpected chores, so I've been AWOL on my blog day. We have some funny stories of camping with our kids. I'm not good at roughing it, so I usually provide the punch line in the story. I was a dude when dude wasn't cool.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Saturday morning paper has a big review in the Variety section for "National Parks: America's Best Idea." Reviewer points out that Burns is taking a big chance professionally competing with the more commercial programming it will be up against. Good review--says the series boasts great storytelling and historical anecdotes (exactly what I look for in this kind of presentation) along with phenomenal photography.

PBS is such a boon to television. It's one of the channels I count on for real news and meaty programming. Not that I don't crave some fluff in my TV diet, but I can't live without protein.

Terry Kate said...

Oh my heart breaks!
I have made Documentaries on wild horse adoption and never seen a horse in the wild. Ah Ken Burns, we love you and hate you. He revolutionized documentary film making to his vision and fought a great fight to bring viewers to historical doc, sadly now most people feel like all docs should look that way. The Ken Burns' Effect leaves a bitter taste sometimes, though I admire him and his brother to infinity and beyond.
Thanks sooo much for the great article and shots. Man our country is beautiful!
Terry Kate
Romance in the Backseat

Kathleen Eagle said...

Thanks for the insights, Terry!

Brenda said...

I have gone on a vacation a long time ago where we took a boat out to an island off the coast of Morehead, North Carolina. We dug for clams, did the shrimping thing at night with nets, went king fishing, etc. Lived in tents and watched the wild horses go by twice a day. I now vacation in hotels! It was fun and I was young, didn't have a bad back, etc.

dancealert at aol dot com

Wilma Frana said...

My husband and I visited the Black Hills years ago. I really enjoyed all the great scenery, wish I could go again.