The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Our National Parks

The Camping Trip That Changed America:  Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Our National Parks

 "So then, here is our common question: "If our country, our companies, and each one of us benefit more in the short run from using as many natural resources as we can, then what will stop us from destroying our whole world -- our common ground? -- from COMMON GROUND: THE WATER, EARTH, AND AIR WE SHARE by Molly Bang (Scholastic/Blue Sky Press, 1997)

CNN, January 9, 2012: "The Obama administration on Monday announced a 20-year ban on new mining claims on more than 1-million acres of public land near the Grand Canyon, a move meant to protect the iconic landmark from new uranium mining." Those reading that entire article learned how not everyone was happy with this action: The current governor of Arizona argued that, "the move will needlessly cost Arizona jobs and stall economic growth."

Doing a bit of research, I found a report that there are already 12 national parks in which oil and gas companies have been given leases for drilling, and found another article detailing how some of our most famous and well-visited national parks have drilling operations currently going on right up to their boundary lines. I also learned that, as of 2011, there were more than 38 million acres of public land leased to oil and gas companies.

"Overnight a storm blew in, spreading five inches of fresh snow. Teedie and Johnnie woke under a coverlet of white flakes. They shook themselves off like two old grizzly bears. "'Bully!' said Teedie stretching. 'What a glorious day!'"

According to the US Constitution, the Congress cannot legislate a national religion. But, in my mind, we do have a national cathedral. It is called Yosemite National Park, and if you grew up in the east, like I did, a first visit Yosemite is like finding yourself on another planet. The same goes for the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon and so many other unique pieces of America's wild lands that have been preserved for future generations. Just imagine if Yosemite and these other national treasures had not been protected Or imagine if our national resolve to maintain this preservation continues to fall victim to the drumbeat of "Drill, Baby! Drill!"

"He loved to end the day reading. Tonight, he chose a book by John Muir. Muir's adventures in California's Sierra Mountains sounded just about perfect to the busy president. "It was strange then, when Muir ended his story by asking for for trees! He said the wild forests were vanishing. He called on the government to save them. In the wake of Teddy Roosevelt's reading that book about the Sierra Nevada in 1903, and having had his curiosity piqued, the president wrote to author John Muir and asked Muir "to take him camping in California's Yosemite wilderness" at the end of a trip Roosevelt was then planning to the western states.

THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA imagines the fun the duo had while off for four days in the wilderness, and the roots of the steadfast friendship that developed on that camping trip which was shared by Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. We see why -- thanks to Muir's inspiration -- Teddy Roosevelt ended up saving more wild land than any American president in history.

This is such a fun read, seeing this outdoor-loving duo -- one of whom liked hunting, fishing, and riding, the other, who liked studying, sketching, and writing about plants -- lying on opposite sides of a campfire and talking animatedly long into the night. In a fascinating author's note, Barb Rosenstock explains how this camping trip almost didn't happen. The then sixty-five year-old Muir did not want any part of playing tour guide to a "noisy politician" but was persuaded by friends that the president could well be very sympathetic to Muir's push for preserving wild spaces. In the wake of that adventure shared by two very-different men with a common love for wild lands, Roosevelt returned to Washington DC and employed "an act that was designed to protect small historic structures to put large tracts of land under federal protection by declaring them National Monuments."

Having just witnessed a presidential campaign in which the challenger seriously proposed that the states be handed over the power to "administer" national lands lying within their borders, THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA is a very timely read. Will we decide to permit our national jewels to become shells of themselves because (as one reader commented) we don't value anything sacred and we feel like we need the money? Or will we put our collective foot down and demand that we, as a nation, administer our national lands in a manner that would have made John Muir enthusiastic? As Molly Bang illustrated in COMMON GROUND, in the past when a particular locale got exploited, trashed, and used up, there were always new places to move on to. But, as she points out about today: "Now we don't have anyplace else to go." 32 pages  ISBN: 978-0-8037-3710-5 

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA Richie's Picks _

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