Tuesday, April 27, 2010
National Parks, Inc.
Visiting a national park in off-season is a lot like visiting Aspen in April, Seaside Heights, New Jersey after Labor Day or a Des Moines street carnival on Monday morning. It’s as quiet as a college library on spring’s first sunny day; yet you can hear the faint creaking of chairlifts, or smell caramel apples, or see toothless carnies grinning. It’s perhaps the most authentic time in these worlds built mostly on whimsy and fantasy. It’s when you see them for what they are, cracks in the varnish and all.
There is no other time to visit one of America’s great National Parks but during these times. I do this not only to fulfill my romantic yearnings for authenticity and realness, but also because of the decided lack of the species Homo touristicas. Find this species in their natural habitat, usually the behind the wheel of the gas-guzzling, road-hogging RV, within the confines of the Shitty-Items-Made-In-China Gift Shop or at the I’m-A-Fat-American Fast Food Restaurant. This species is identifiable by their really white sneakers with requisite white tube socks, neon green or magenta fanny packs and khaki shorts. They can usually be seen carrying their young on a nylon leash, or dragging them by an arm as the young screams because they were not allowed to purchase a Shitty Gift at the Shitty-Items-Made-In-China Gift Shop.
Everything leading up to Glacier National Park is themed. It’s as if Walt Disney himself got a hold of the Great American Wilderness and created Wilderness Disneyland. There is the Glacier View Inn, the Glacier Bar and Grill, the Glacier Bear Supermarket, Wild Indian Curios, Glacier Laundromat and the list goes on. The so-called Glacier Park International (yes, international) airport is bigger than both the Aspen airport as well as the Akron-Canton airport. Where is the wilderness I was looking for?
Inside it’s all park fees, park rules, paved park roads, fenced off park picnic areas and tourist shops in this supposed wilderness area. At this time of year the park, like the Des Moines street fair, is blissfully devoid of Homo touristicas. It’s just me and a Tacoma with a couple from Alaska, who probably came down south to this here beach for spring break.
I wake up and unfold myself from the backseat of my car, feeling good about life because I was not attacked by a hungry, pissed-off early spring grizzly, and am greeted by the most pristine excuse for a High Rockies lake that I have ever seen. Alone, absolutely alone, I can’t think of anything better. Except maybe a cup of coffee, but let’s not split hairs. I don’t think it would feel the same if the morning silence was interrupted by a screaming rug rat, the growl of an RV engine or the smell of bacon frying on the portable Coleman.
The National Park system is quite the accomplishment. It protects vast swaths of land and allows the city-bound American to get a taste, however small and brief, of true wilderness. This is good. Otherwise the Average American wouldn’t stand a chance against the call of potato chips, Pepsi and the six-hundred channels on their Direct TV. But are they really experiencing the wilderness or are they just touring around Wilderness Disneyland? It’s just another one of the contradictions that makes America great. Welcome to National Park, Inc.