America’s Best Idea?

Big Bend OcatillosThose Ken Burns documentaries are just so darned educational. And pretty entertaining too. But I never sat down and just watched one in its entirety. Sure, I’ve seen some of The Civil War, and some Jazz.  Uh, I must have seen snippets of others. Baseball.  The War.  The Dust Bowl.  Thomas Jefferson.  Mark Twain.  Surely…

Feeling the cabin fever of Winter, I started watching The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. It came out in 2009 and is 12 hours long. I was desperate for a bunch of pretty.

As usual, the story is basically about people.

I knew John Muir from my few years in San Francisco. Everything is named for him out there. I bumped into Robin Williams at Muir Woods! And I knew about Hetch-Hetchy. But I didn’t know much about it. It’s too bad that humans are more important than everything else in the world. Otherwise it would have been a crime to do that to that poor little valley.

I never realized how important Teddy Roosevelt was for the National Parks. Or the Rockefellers. Rich folks aren’t all bad, I guess.

But what really got weird for me was all the talk about Stephen Mather and Horace Albright. I know those names from… EVERYWHERE. They just keep showing up no matter where you look. And I never knew a thing about the people those names represented. And now I do. Pretty cool.

In the narration, Tom Hanks reads the part of Horace Albright. Peter Coyote is the main narrator. He has a pretty generic voice, but I got tired of it after a time. He seemed sort of sleepy the whole way, and never seemed excited about any of the scenery.

The one part that I really didn’t like was the really really really repetitive use of a Celtic-inspired piece of mountain music that played incessantly throughout the 12 hours. There was other music too, but this one piece was like the theme or something. There was just too much of it. Or it needed to be re-interpreted through variations or something. It was whiney!

Entirely because of this documentary, I decided to take The Great Smoky Mountains National Park seriously. According to Mike Oswald, the Smokies are the most visited National Park in the country, with a gazillion visitors each year. Planning ahead, I snuck in between snow storms early this Spring.

It was pretty cool. Not too many people. Would have been better if there’d have been leaves on the trees. But then my wife wouldn’t have spotted that bald eagle.

One of the sad things about National Parks, and all the other wild places, is that we’re loving them to death. Even if a gazillion people leave only footprints and take only pictures, they’ll pack the earth down hard like concrete. All the wildness will get worn out. So go visit your National Parks while you still can. Before they lock them up for their own protection.

But watch the documentary first, so you’ll know the story and what’s gone on before.


About Lyle Verbilion

I'm just wanderin' around lookin' at things. Wow.
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