NPS 100th Birthday and KC DenDooven
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and this past Thursday, August 16, was the actual date. Here, in Moab, we’ve been celebrating for a while. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park and I had the privilege of creating a 3-program set of radio features on the park and its founder and first superintendent Bates Wilson. And besides, when you live in Moab, you pretty much live in the parks so every day is a celebration.
The birthday headlines caused me to reflect on my relationship to the parks. There are three of profound significance – family camping trips, home, and KC DenDooven.
YOUTH. I was raised on family camping trips in the national parks. When we three kids grew just large enough our family would take the annual prescribed 2-week summer vacation from our Salt Lake City home and visit the national parks. With our 1955 Chevy loaded with our Coleman everything (tent, stove and grill, lantern, and Dacron 88 sleeping bags with duck scenes on the inside) we’d either head north to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone or turn south for Zion, Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. On occasion the parents would get a wild hair and we’d go all the way to Glacier, coming dangerously close to visiting my mom’s siblings, and then we would much to my father’s chagrin. We once went to Mount Rushmore and several times visited Rocky Mountain NP. Those were great days. We saw all the sights. Rangers would check our camp at night and we’d invite them in for hot chocolate……….and they’d stay! We saw wolves, bears, bison, mountain goats, deer, moose, elk, squirrels, and at 14 I saw my first bare-breasted woman walking down a trail in Rocky Mountain NP! Dad quickly scattered us into the forest where we nearly got lost trying to avoid the natural wonders awaiting there!
HOME. The camping bug bit hard then and has never let go. While most of my high school friends involved themselves with football and debate, I took to backpacking, first with a few of my errant Lutheran boy scout troop buddies and later on by myself and with my long-time Moab buddy Glen. Trips became more and more epic and we were not limited to the national parks. When it came time for me to move out of Salt Lake City I tried to find work in Moab, but didn’t. Serendipity played her hand and I moved to Montezuma Creek, Utah to teach in a Navajo school. Ten years later I bought the house that became my home in Moab, moved to Santa Fe for 9 years and returned to stay in 1999. This is home……well, almost. If I could up and move my little home to Squaw Flat I’d be content to live my years out there without ever going anywhere else. The Needles District of Canyonlands and its sister, Cedar Mesa, are my refuge. Home is not a numbered address but a state of being. My “immediate” backyard runs for 250 miles in all directions!
KC. When I think of the NPS turning 100, I quickly think of my friend and publisher KC DenDooven, who has published over 100 books on the national parks all with the subtitle: The Story Behind the Scenery. KC pioneered the publication of books on the parks by having park naturalists write the texts that would be illustrated by some of America’s most celebrated nature photographers. When first in Santa Fe I was fortunate to befriend one Dan Murphy who worked at the regional NPS office in interpretation. He also authored the historic trails book series for KC. Thanks you serendipity. Dan liked my work and suggested to KC that he hire me for the upcoming Santa Fe Trail book. KC agreed and my publishing career began. I have produced 11 books for him, mostly on Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts and was allowed to write the one on Pottery. KC is an integral part of the history of western parks. He was the first publication to feature an article on the brand spanking new Canyonlands, an article penned by Secretary of the Interior Udall. His Monument Valley book bears the first color photographs made of the Totem Pole, the Mittens, and the people of the valley by legendary photographer Josef Muench. In 2000, a year after Josef passed away, KC asked me to write and photograph a 16-page Monument Valley Today insert for the re-issue of the publication. The first thing I did was to take copies of the original book to Monument Valley and begin the long process of tracking down the descendants of those in the original. In some cases a child from the first book had just grown much older. It was a great circular weaving of history and perceptions of landscape. The land had not changed much and neither had the valley resident’s devotion to that landscape. Park management and the level of tourism had grown significantly, and though there has been threat of paving the 17-mile loop road you can drive in your personal vehicle it remains as it has been – dry and sandy, rocky and rutted and subject to flooding when it rains. As the valley residents say, “It makes you see this place on HER TERMS, not yours.”
That is essentially the mission of the National Park Service. It is a mission that we can cherish and participate in. The national parks are subject to issues of budget, management, diversity, development and divestiture. They are threatened politically. At the end of the day, though, they still take our breath away.
Happy Birthday National Park Service! You’ve given me a sense of place, a sense of self, a home in the homeland and friendships that will last a lifetime! And thanks to you as well KC – you are the first two-legged, living, walking, scuba-diving national park!