Tag Archives: National Park Service

Oh, the fires leave lasting scars

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — I feared this sight as we approached the nation’s original national park.

We looked all around us as we drove through the park from east to west and noticed thousands upon thousands of scarred trees.

They are the casualty of forest fires.

The sight of them breaks my heart.

Our return to Yellowstone, which we first saw in 1973 — when we came here with our then-infant older son — is off to a great start. We drove slowly through the park and saw three large herds of bison. One of the beasts was ambling down the highway at his own pace, stopping traffic along the way; fortunately we didn’t see any yahoos trying to taunt the cantankerous critter, like the idiot who did just the other day.

But those trees, or what is left of them, is a troubling sight to me.

I recall the huge 1988 Yellowstone fire that engulfed thousands of acres of timber. The National Forest Service was forced in the wake of that blaze to change its firefighting policy; in other words, the service went from a quick-suppression policy to a “let it burn” policy, understanding that fire is nature’s way of cleansing the forests.

Well, the fires have “cleansed” the park. Don’t misunderstand, there’s plenty of handsome timber still standing throughout the park. A lot of the mountain slopes, though, remain scarred by previous blazes.

The sight of them makes my heart hurt.

Nature has this way of tending to itself

A video came to my attention. It apparently has gone viral, which is why it showed up on my Facebook feed the other day.

I opened it — and was filled with wonder at the power of Mother Nature.

It’s about the consequence of the release of 14 wolves into Yellowstone National Park. It recites the impact that the wolves have had on the ecosystem.

It’s all good, I’ll tell you. The video is here: oSN8R80e

I encourage you to take a look.

In brief, it explains how the wolves culled the deer and elk herds in Yellowstone, how the culling has helped the flora flourish, how the increased flora has attracted more birds, improved soil erosion throughout the park, enhanced the rivers, streams and lakes, which attracted more wildlife.

I remember when the National Park Service brought the wolves back into Yellowstone, the nation’s oldest national park. I was pleased to hear about the return of the beasts. I knew they would prey on injured or ailing deer and elk. They did what we all thought they would do.

Yes, the numbers of deer and elk diminished. The quality of the herds, though, improved. The more fit animals were able to survive. They reproduced.

And … shall we say that the rest is history.

Mother Nature is the greatest equalizer of them all.

Happy Trails, Part 43

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. —Ā Oh, how I love parks.Ā National parks, state parks, municipal parks. You name ’em. I love ’em.

We’ve spent a good bit of travel time visiting and staying at public parks. They’re quite friendly to us recreational vehicle users. What’s more, the National Park Service has this wonderful perk it extends to us older folks. It’s called a “Senior Pass.” It gets us into national parks for free — for the rest of our lives.

Texas’s state parks system also allows us free entry, but it’s not a lifetime pass. We have to renew it annually. It’s worth it for us, given that (a) state park overnight RV lodging is cheap and (b) the state parks in Texas generally are places of beauty.

We ventured to Mesa Verde National Park, which is about 40 miles west of Durango. It features 1,000-year-old — and older — cliff dwellings carved out of canyon walls high up in the mountains. It’s about a 20-mile drive from the park entrance to where one can see the dwellings. It’s a winding, highly scenic excursion along the way.

If I had one gripe about our national parks, it’s that they aren’t exactly pet friendly. We found this out on another trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas and at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

We had to sneak Toby the Puppy along with us to Mesa Verde’s exhibits. He wasn’t allowed to walk along any trails, but since we didn’t see “trails” as I understand the meaning of the word, we took him with us along paved walkways toward the exhibits; then we would pick up him and pack him through some of the dwelling exhibits.

Shhh! Don’t rat me out … please.

Our travels are going to take us to many more of these federal parks. I believe we’ve been to 17 national parks already in our 46 years of life together. One of my unofficial bucket-list objectives is to see all of them before I’m no longer able to travel long distances.

So … the adventure continues.

(Crowd) size really must matter

You mean we’re still talking about the size of that inaugural crowd this past January? We’re still arguing over whether it measured up to what the brand new president of the United States called it — the largest gathering of human beings in world history … or something like that?

I guess in Donald J. Trump’s world, size matters.

The National Park Service’s inspector general now says the agency didn’t mess with the crowd size estimates of Trump’s inaugural nor did it leak any information to the media.

The Hill reports on the IG’s findings.Ā Read the story here.

This malarkey about crowd size seemed to get under the president’s skin early this year. Various media published pictures showing the crowd gathered in front of Capitol Building at President Barack Obama’s first inaugural in 2009 and compared it to the crowd that heard Trump’s speech this past January. Obama’s crowd was, um, quite a bit larger.

Trump didn’t like hearing that. White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s initial press briefing included a serious scolding of the media for failing to report that the president’s inaugural crowd was the largest in history. The pictures, though, tell a different story.

Will this spell the end of this mini-tempest? Probably not, as long as Donald John Trump is president of the United States.

Panhandle has reason to celebrate national parks

lake meredith

The Texas Panhandle’s two significant federal park attractions aren’t likely to attract the attention garnered by actual national parks.

But as the National Park Service marks its 100th birthday, I thought it would be good to hold up the Panhandle’s parks for your attention.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, all 44,000 acres of it, is going through some serious change. The park is being improved, developed and made more attractive to visitors coming to the region.

Do you remember the drought that ravaged the area in 2011-12? Sure you do. Lake Meredith park officials began repurposing some of itsĀ features to become a more land-based attraction. The lake itself was diminishing rapidly, falling to a low of 26 feet.

Then something quite unexpected happened in the spring and summer of 2015. The rain started to fall. It kept falling upriver. The Canadian River poured into the lake. The level rose to more than 60 feet. Boaters returned to the lake.

The lake — in this centennial year of the National Park Service — is in far better shape than it was just two years ago.

The Lake Meredith NRA is enjoying a return of visitors. People are enjoying the water, along with the hiking trails and the campgrounds being developed throughout the area.

We have a national monument, too. Alibates Flint Quarries isn’t far from Lake Meredith. It features exhibits where the park rangers show tourists how Native Americans dug out stones to use for tools and weapons. That park, too, is being improved for better use by those coming to the region to understand its history.

Texas does not set aside much of its land for public use. Statewide, the percentage of public landĀ remains minuscule. In the Panhandle, we place great emphasis on private land ownership.

But these two federal sites are worth saluting as the nation marks the centennial year of the National Park Service.

We also ought to thank the Almighty for restoring that big lake’s water level.

Those signs are up for a reason


Yellowstone National Park officials are unambiguous about how people should interact with the wildlife that roam the park.

Do not do it. Period.

That didn’t deter a Canadian visitor and his son from interfering with Mother Nature when they grabbed a newborn bison and put it into their SUV, thinking they were saving its life.

Well, they didn’t.


Shamash Kassam and his son, Shakeel, would learn in quick order just why the park insists that human beings keep their hands off these beasts.

The park took the critter and then tried to re-integrate it with its herd. The mama bison rejected her baby, which then sought to approach other human beings, putting itself into imminent danger.

It was then that park rangers had to euthanize the little critter.

My hope is that rangers gave Papa and Son Kassam a serious tongue-lashing for interfering with Mother Nature’s way.

Shamash Kassam said he and his son thought the animal was shivering. They didn’t want it exposed to the elements.

How can the National Park Service make it any clearer?

Human beings should not ever interact with wildlife, which are called “wildlife” for a reason.

They’re labeled ‘wildlife’ for a good reason


This is one of those stories that simply sends me into orbit.

Some visitors were driving through Yellowstone National Park. They see a newborn bison calf. They pick it up and put it into their SUV, believing it was “freezing.” They take the creature to a park office, where I presume the National Park Service rangers were none too happy to receive this arrival.

The rangers sought to return the animal to the wild, return it to the herd from which the visitors “rescued” it.

Mama bison wouldn’t care for her baby, which at that point was doomed.

Faced with the prospect of allowing the young bison to starve to death, theĀ rangersĀ decided to euthanize the tiny critter.

You know, of course, why this story is so outrageous.


The National Park Service spends a lot of time and energy — not to mention public money — educating the public about the hazards of messing with these creatures. TouristsĀ must notĀ feed them, pet them, love on them … pick them up and put them in their vehicles.

As for the bison in particular, they are powerful and often cantankerous beasts that can inflict serious bodily harm.

TheĀ visitors wereĀ fined $110 for touching the baby bison. A part of me wishes the penalty was a lot stiffer. I also hope the rangers gave these visitors a serious tongue-lashing for what they did.

OK, you are welcome to accuse me of restating the obvious — but these animals are labeled “wildlife” for a very good reason.


Outburst makes me miss Larry Combest

Randy Neugebauer’s disgraceful outburst against a U.S. National Park Service employee has brought unflattering comparisons between the West Texas congressman and the man who preceded him in that office.

Neugebauer, a Lubbock Republican, confronted a park ranger this week as she was seeking to enforce a rule banning visitors from entering an open-air exhibit on the Washington D.C. Mall. The exhibit was the World War II veterans memorial and Neugebauer, whose votes in the House of Representatives contributed to the partial government shutdown now in its fourth day, upbraided the ranger for refusing to let people in. “You should be ashamed,” he told the ranger. The exchange was caught on video and has gone viral.

It was an idiotic example of what’s transpiring now in D.C. The people responsible for this mess are now becoming the chief grandstanders.

I thought of Republican Larry Combest, who represented the same 19th Congressional District from 1985 until 2002, when he resigned unexpectedly to return to private life.

Combest came from a different era. He is just as conservative as Neugebauer but he saw up close the good side of divided government. Combest once served on the late Sen. John Tower’s staff and he would tell me of the times Tower would argue ferociously with the likes of the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who was just as liberal as Tower was conservative. Tower and Humphrey would debate on the Senate floor and then walk out arm in arm after the session was gaveled to a close. The men were foes — never enemies — while they were on the clock, but friends when time expired.

Combest understood that. His best friend in the House was a Democrat, Charlie Stenholm of Abilene, with whom he served on the Agriculture Committee. Stenholm lost his congressional seat in 2004; his district was paired with Neugebauer’s district. The GOP-led Texas Legislature made sure Neugebauer would win by stacking the new district with true-blue Republican voters.

I’ve long wondered how Combest voted in that election.

I got to know Combest pretty well over many years. For a time, from the early 1990s until 2001, his congressional district included the Randall County portion of Amarillo. Thus, he was a frequent visitor to the newspaper where I worked. I don’t know Neugebauer; I know only of him. What I witnessed this week was thoroughly disagreeable.

I have tried in the past day or so to imagine Larry Combest confronting that park ranger. The image just doesn’t register. Gentlemen know better than to make spectacles of themselves.