Friday, July 25, 2014

Backpacks, Ignorance and Ice Cream Cones

My family just returned from its annual mid-summer trip to Estes Park, Colorado (or as I like to call it, Hell). Despite my low tolerance for people of all types in general and fellow tourists in particular, and especially fellow tourists of the type that frequent national parks (and I'm talking about both the lemming herds of stupid T-shirt-wearing, stupid question-asking, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory-eating family vacation types as well as the insufferably smug North Face-Columbia-Marmot-festooned, Trekker pole-carrying, "hiker left!" screaming trail pricks) I had my usual good time. I managed to catch a few fish, learned a little more (through often hilariously inept trial-and-error) about casting to and catching trout in moving water, caught my obligatory Colorado slam (brown, brook, rainbow and cutthroat), made a few nice hikes (in unpretentious and wholly unfashionable tennis shoes, and with nary a walking stick in sight...) with the family, and even managed to eat a little ice cream and ask a few stupid, touristy questions.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a week. Rocky Mountain National Park is a gorgeous, special place, and I can't complain. But like all national parks, and especially popular, photogenic, mountain-y national parks, it's also just not me, at least for more than a few days. It's too...everything. Too over-the-top pretty. Too magnificent. Too popular. Too postcard. Too (by necessity) regulated. It's everything that everyone imagines when they think of natural beauty, and that makes it somehow a little, I don't know, unreal for me. Hard to explain, really.  I suppose, when you get down to it, there are two basic types of people: national park people, and (for lack of a better example) BLM/National Forest people. The vast, thundering herd are national park people. I love the national parks in measured doses, but at heart I'm a BLM kind of guy. I like my beauty served mostly under-appreciated and undiscovered, with a little silence, a little space, and a helluva lot fewer people sporting backpacks, ignorance, and ice cream cones.  


  1. I've practically given up visiting the National Parking Lots for most of the same reasons you describe. I can't decide if it was my last visit to Yosemite or to the Grand Canyon that did it for me, but one more screaming, bored kid... or one more tourist mom complaining about the "filthy bathrooms" (It's a national park... they're pit toilets for god sake... if you want real toilets stay at the Holiday Inn) and I'd have gone fairly postal.

    The thing is, there's so much incredibly beautiful, wild, and public land in the west in the National Forests and BLM... why be constrained by a park's boundaries?

  2. Oh, yeah, the lowlands, creosote bush, sagebrush sea, short grass prairie of the (mostly) BLM lands have a hidden beauty that is a skill to appreciate. And I live in Jackson, WY...... land of hellish tourist. TK

  3. Replies
    1. Bureau of Land Management - Federally managed land that is not National Forest, National Park, or National Monument (or Corp of Engineers, military, etc.). The BLM holdings are widespread across much of the west, particularly in deserts and other "marginal" areas.

      Somewhere, somehow, I read a book that explained how different agencies come to manage different parcels of public land, but that explanation evades me now.

  4. BLM, called by those who love it ' the goat pasture'. the usually lower level elevations of public land found through out the western us (and Alaska). The bulk of those lands in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Washington and New Mexico that are public lands, but not National Park Service or US Forest Service....yeah, California has a bunch too but that's a different story.

  5. I think anyone reading this blog would almost automatically fall under BLM category. I think the real question is why you would subject your family to tourist hell when there are so many good places to fish in Colorado?

  6. wow totally agree with you chad. visiting Montana last summer i enjoyed the day i visited Yellowstone but was very happy to be camping and spending the vast majority of my time in the Gallatin National Forest

  7. I too am definitely oriented towards BLM and the scruffier, more neglected kinds of National Forest. I certainly understand your trouble with postcard-perfect scenery. I often take the little one day hiking in the user-friendly Sierra Nevada, but most times I find myself rolling my eyes. "Another damn perfect, gorgeous granite-bound lake surrounded by soaring peaks, just like every other one!" The landscape is beautiful, but it never feels mysterious or intriguing, and for all their size the Sierras always feel somehow hemmed-in, without the sense of vastness and expanse I get in the Great Basin, or Idaho, or New Mexico. And it's worth pointing out that the National Forests have plenty of areas of alpine scenery equal to and sometimes better than what you'll find in the Parks.

    To be fair to the Parks, however, in most of them it's really not too difficult to find solitude and secret crannies, if one has a working pair of legs. That may be less the case in Rocky Mountain, so close to outdoor recreation loving Boulder and Denver. But last time I went to the Grand Canyon, the area for which we requested our backpacking permit, accessible and spectacular and hardly remote by Grand Canyon standards, received only around 50 user-days of visitation per year. The Parks still have good backcountry and secrets to offer.

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