“Since we started hiking yesterday morning, other backpackers have stopped and stared at our kids, asking their ages. Alex and Nate have probably noticed that we’ve seen only a few other kids out here. But they have no grasp of the anomaly of their own presence. It would mean nothing to them to hear that I was past thirty when I first saw these mountains and walked this trail; they are Westerners, but I was a child of the East who discovered the West as an adult. They don’t yet appreciate that they are experiencing one of America’s most beloved landscapes more intimately than the vast majority of their countrymen ever will.
“But that’s the problem with mature perspective: you don’t acquire it until long after it first would have been useful.”
Outdoorsman and writer Michael Lanza has hiked the American West like a teepeed nomad. He’s a kind of ranger-shaman. He knows things that a man knows only when he’s lived and stalked around outdoors like the beast Darwin says he is. Lanza knows, for instance, that “the Tetons will manhandle your psyche.” He knows the giddying company of “a bull elk standing right outside our tents in the milky glow of a full moon.” He knows five miles of “dizzying pain from a broken foot” and he knows the less temporary consequences of walking undomesticated terrain: death (what goes up must come down, and its remains be found), and loss. “Returning to ground where Rick and I stood together … I also feel his absence, like I’m in an empty room where we were supposed to meet.”
But that is all cake because over four seasons Lanza is doing it over — the Tetons, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier Bay, Joshua Tree, the Rockies, and others — with a couple of tagalongs, Nate and Alex, aged nine and seven.
The title says it all: Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks (Beacon Press, 2012). Each chapter tells of visiting a different national park. Lanza puts you there but takes an unusual angle. He also leads you to see the world through a child’s eyes — his children are engaging co-protagonists — and to grasp from a new perspective the challenges ahead. The personal narrative is grounded by studies and reports and interviews. What you get is a boots-on-the-ground account of climate change set against the desire of every parent to fill their children’s lives with the wonders of their own.
Discover and Plan with the help of our American Travel Guides
As you begin to plan for the summer holidays, why not take a look through our collection of American travel guides? As well as covering all fifty states broadly and in depth, our collection will guide you through the hundreds of national park areas across America. Here are a couple I’ve just thumbed:
The Official Guide to America’s National Parks: 13th Edition (Fodors, 2009). Every year millions of people travel to cherished national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite to see some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth. Produced in cooperation with the National Park Foundation, this is the official guide to all 397 sites in the national park system, including natural, historic, and cultural treasures. It’s invaluable as a quick reference as well as to help plan the trip of a lifetime.
National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States: Sixth Edition (National Geographic, 2009). Packed with more color photographs (380) and detailed, color maps (80) than any other parks guidebook on the market, this handy, practical, guide offers comprehensive information on the crown jewels of the national park system — the 58 scenic national parks that conserve and protect the flora and fauna in some of our nation’s last wilderness areas. This guide helps travelers design custom trips, depending on the time and interests they have.