Writing about the outdoors, animals and places to visit has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have never really aspired to write a book, but I really love reading them. So to perfect the plan, I’d like to be the guy who writes reviews on tomes about outdoor topics.
A book I read earlier this year delivered on all I could have hoped as a guide to places I’d like to see, and it included a couple that I have already seen. Mark Woods is a newspaper columnist who received a fellowship to write about national parks across the country.
If you know someone who likes books and outdoor places, Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks could be great gift item. My kids bought it for me, and it was a great choice.
It is much more than just a guidebook that starts with sunrise on New Year’s Day on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine and concludes at the end of the year at Haleakala in Hawaii. The stories of family and people in between make for compelling reading.
We went to Acadia and Bar Harbor, Maine, in early September a couple of years ago. We watched a sunset there, and it was incredibly cold. I can’t imagine the environment for a sunrise in January, but Woods was not alone. Being in the first place where the sun reaches the American mainland on the first day of the year is apparently a thing. It is also requires extreme weather gear.
The main theme of the book is its celebration of 100 years of national parks in America, and it asks what those places might be like a century from now.
The one park Woods featured that seems to be most in peril is called Dry Tortugas, a series of shallow islands about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. Almost any sea level rise will swamp Fort Jefferson, which was built in the 1800s to defend and protect the shipping lanes between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
Another place featured in the book that we have visited is Olympic National Park in Washington on the Pacific Ocean. The book highlights a place called the Hoh Rainforest. We hiked at a section called Quinault, which also features a temperate rainforest.
As opposed to the tropical rainforests of Amazon acclaim, these Pacific Northwest areas are fed by the moisture that comes off the ocean but can’t make it over the coastal mountain range, resulting in more than 140 inches of rain each year.
In his big year, Woods visited some of the best-known national parks including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, acknowledging the amazing features that make them popular with millions of visitors each year. The descriptions made me anxious to see these national treasures.
The author also visited a place called Gateway in New York, which depicted the system’s need for some tender loving care. Mostly an overgrown and abandoned airstrip on the harbor with its own island of garbage, it also includes a large grassland that may resemble what New York City looked like before the first Europeans arrived.
Recognizing more recent history, Woods spent a few days at the Flight 93 National Memorial at a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The place is a powerful and poignant look at America’s reaction and remembrance of a terrible September day.
THE BIG BEND
Woods made a quick stop at one national park I really hope to see some day. There is actually nothing quick about a visit to Big Bend National Park in the middle of nowhere in Texas. No matter where you happen to be, it is still a long drive to Big Bend. Its location away from everything, of course, is the place’s charm. It is best known for star-filled skies above mountains, deserts and Rio Grande valleys with no interference from the man-made world.
If you have national pride about outdoor places across our country, Lassoing the Sun can take you to many of them while you wait for your chance to visit in person. Getting to know Mark Woods, a University of Missouri graduate, and his family along the way is a delightful side trip.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail email@example.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.