Visiting the National Parks Before They're Gone

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

From the Aiguille du Midi, a mountain peak above Chamonix, ice climbers walk out on a vast snowfield.

Michael Lanza, Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, took his wife and two children to visit the endangered National Parks before they're gone. The current states of some national parks, despite our country's efforts to conserve them, are still threatened by climate changes. In the future, they may be radically different, especially the parks primarily composed of glaciers and snow.

Lanza's new book, "Before They're Gone," documents the changes that the National Parks have undergone, and the trips that he took with his two children throughout the parks. Not only was Lanza interested in seeing the National Parks before they are gone, but he also wanted to see the parks with his children before they're grown up. As a result, his journey was not only about seeing the national treasures that may disappear with the years, but also about cherishing time with his children, with whom he will not necessarily have time to explore the parks when they are older. 

Lanza, who has written on the changing face of the American landscape, takes Glacier National Park in Montana as an example. "A leading federal scientist who runs an elite team of researchers on climate change at [the park] is projecting that those glaciers will be gone by about the year 2020," he says. "This park had 150 glaciers that covered almost 40 square miles in 1850, and in a century in a half they're down to about 27 glaciers." 

Glaciers, Lanza says, are one of the best indicators to look at when measuring the effects of climate change, as they are only affected by seasonal temperature changes. "In Alaska, for instance, 99 percent of glaciers are shrinking," he says. "There's no scientific dispute that glaciers are shrinking, all over the world." Lanza looks at comparisons of how the glaciers look now compared to years past. 

His kids came away from the trip with a lesson that impressed Lanza. "They talk about climate change, and what it means to them and their generation, and how their generation needs to solve a problem that our generation is not addressing very well," he says. "It's interesting to hear that perspective from a kid." 


Michael Lanza

Produced by:

Robert Balint and Elena Holodny

Comments [3]

Camille Macchio from Milltown, NJ

In September, we have a trip planned to visit Oregon and, of course, would not miss Crater National Park, Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood. Wherever our vacation plans take us in this beautiful United States, even if its to DisneyWorld or the beach, a National Park is always on our itinerary. Joshua Tree National Park in Palm Springs, while not one of my all time favorites, is fascinating and not to be missed, especially if you're interested in a true desert environment.

Aug. 08 2012 04:09 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The planet remained the same for thousands of years. Give man twenty years and he can change all that...

Years ago I went down the Green River in a sport yak( a safer kayak)... When the kids get older, I'd love to take them on a trip. Of course, I'd have to find out if it is still desirable and safe...

Aug. 08 2012 11:04 AM
Laurie Mann from Pittsburgh, PA

There are many lovely national and state parks throughout New England - Acadia, Cape Cod, White Mountains - but I do have to agree with Michael Lanza that the vastness of the parks in the west is striking. My husband and I took a small boat cruise down Alaska's Inner Passage this summer. While it didn't include Glacier Bay, we spent a great day watching the glacier calve icebergs at Tracy Arm. Before the trip, we went to Juneau and spent a few hours hiking near the Mendenhall Glacier just outside of town. Mendenhall is a good example of global warming in action. The glacier has receded about 3/4ths of a mile away from the visitor's center, and there's a large waterfall to the right of the glacier that basically didn't exist back in the '50s. It was also about 85 degrees the day we were there, one of the warmest days in Juneau ever.

Aug. 08 2012 10:07 AM

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