The Forces of Nature at Work
Mother Nature is a fickle mistress for sure. I’ve been aware of that fact for quite some time; however I was repeatedly reminded of this deity’s propensity for change during the research phase of this book. And although it was one of the most challenging press trips that I’ve ever taken, it also turned out to be one of the most rewarding. Suffice it to say that Mom Nature can put on quite the show.
But I digress.
The forces of nature are constantly at work in our national parks; in fact that’s what shapes some of the spectacular natural features — including the magnificent canyons and glacial moraines — that dot these national treasures. And I certainly witnessed these forces at work during my tenure in Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
It all started in Glacier National Park. As soon as we arrived we noticed a telltale scent of smoke in the air. It was a bad year for wildfires in and near the park, and unfortunately it got worse during our three-week stay. After the wind changed, Lake McDonald Lodge was closed, as the smoke was deemed a health hazard for the resident employees. At one point when the lodge was threatened, it was eerie to see the hose lays that encircled the deserted buildings. Fortunately the fire spared the lodge, but a section of Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed for the season in early September.
There were also a lot of firsts on this trip, including the first time I’ve ever done a hotel inspection during an evacuation. That happened in Apgar Village, and it’s something that I won’t soon forget.
Moving on to Yellowstone, we arrived in an unseasonal early September snowstorm. Yes, Mother Nature was at work again, and no matter how many obstacles she created with the snow, they were at least softened by the breathtaking views. I lost count of how many times the passes closed, and to be honest the road condition hotline was on speed-dial whenever I had a signal. At one point all of the lodges in the park were isolated islands, as roads were closed, traffic came to a standstill, and folks just had to settle in wherever they were. But again, that’s how Mother Nature works.
And then there was Grand Teton. To be honest, we could see Mother Nature at work everywhere in this park, as the freshly fallen snow dotted the jagged peaks that seemed to rise up to the heavens. At times we just sat there in awe. And then of course there was our resident moose and her calf, that grazed right outside our cabin door. Talk about having a font row seat!
And although these forces of nature help shape the natural features of the parks, another force — a man-made force — helps shape the physical access. And in that respect I was thrilled to find a multitude of access improvements in all three of these national parks.
For starters the accessible Red Buses in Glacier are awesome. They have roll-up plastic flaps on the windows, so passengers get the same open-air experience that’s available on the historic buses. Additionally, passengers get a full view of everything around them, thanks to an on-board camera and monitors. Xanterra did a great job of finding an accessible alternative to the historic Red Buses, and now these tours are open to everyone.
Down in Yellowstone, the new visitor center at Old Faithful not only offers barrier-free access; but it also sports an indoor viewing area for folks who can’t handle the summer heat. And the boardwalks over at Midway Geyser Basin have a gradual grade with level spots along the way. Again, the powers that be did an excellent job of making this hilly terrain wheelchair-accessible.
Finally, down in Grand Teton, the recent improvements at Jenny Lake include the addition of a new accessible lakeshore trail. And the existing accessible multiuse trail now extends all the way to the park entrance, and continues on to Jackson. I was thrilled to find these access upgrades.
Which leads me to the main reason I wrote this book — so I can share these access improvements, and other access details with folks who want to get out and explore the great outdoors.
Folks like Steve — a power wheelchair-user who I met while I was inspecting the restrooms in Madison Campground. At first he thought I was doing a drive-by to use the facilities — a huge no-no in campground etiquette — but once I revealed my real purpose, he excitedly shared with me how much he loves to visit and explore this seemingly rugged national park. And might I add, this happened right after the snowstorm, which didn’t seem to phase him at all.
And Steve is not alone. There are many other folks who want to get out and enjoy our national parks — folks who may not be aware of the accessible trails, attractions, campgrounds, tours and lodging options available to them. I wrote this book to share that information with them as well.
After all, information is power, as far as access is concerned. And I love to empower people.
Of course, access improvements and upgrades will continue at all these parks, and that’s a very good thing. In order to keep up with this progress I plan to include updates about future access improvements at www.barrierfreeyellowstone.com. And if you happen to stumble across a change or improvement, I invite you to let me know about it, so I can spread the word.
In the end, Mother Nature will continue to shape these parks, and man will continue to make them more accessible. And from where I stand that’s definitely a winning combination.
So get out and enjoy these scenic national treasures — and let me know how you like them.