It has taken a little while to decide to go ahead with this short reflection of my recent experience on my first visit to the USA. You may ask why and there are many reasons not least of which is my column is about the British landscape – so bear with me. Secondly most of you who follow this site are doing so because you love all things British and finally many of you are from the USA who will have your own opinions on the matter.
So my first trip to the States to photograph the south west National Parks is over and yes I did enjoy it except that half way through and totally unexpectedly I found out that the Government was shutting down and all the National Parks were being closed. Great I had just spent the day in Bryce having the week before worked my way from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Lake Powell, Arches and Canyonlands.
The next day I was due in Zion then Death Valley, Seqouia and Kings Canyon and finally Yosemite. Yosemite being the highlight of the trip. Zion is one of the Parks with a State Highway running through it which meant that this area of the Park remained open but according to the Rangers you were not allowed to stop, park, hike etc and boy were they enforcing it with regular patrols, closed pull ins and enforcement tickets. Very loyal for someone not being paid. Well as you all will now know the shutdown continued till last week and I never got to see those remaining landscapes. What made it even worse was that all of the remaining hotels were actually in the Parks, apart from Death Valley which was on private land and I was not even allowed to stay at the hotels. Cue travel company.
The first suggestion go back and stay in Las Vegas. No, I don’t think so. As much as visiting Las Vegas was an experience spending a week there would be too much. Next suggestion Los Angles and Palm Springs. Did they really feel that any of those locations were suitable for someone who had come to experience the wonderful landscapes of the National Parks. Luckily I was already aware of the State Parks which were still open so the remaining time was spent visiting those and seeing some amazing alternatives that I would not have seen like Antelope Canyon amongst others.
I make no apologies for the inclusion of some of my images of the Parks as there are some wonderfully diverse landscapes, the like of which I have never seen before and may never see again especially if the USA government have anything to do with it. Other images of my trip will be available on my website shortly.
Next year is the centenary anniversary of the death of John Muir, the father of the National Parks movement in the States and subsequently the world. He must be “turning in his grave” to think that such a thing could happen with what is considered by many to be America’s Best Idea. Closing them may be considered by many others to be their worst. Well enough of my ramblings and venting of frustration. Some of you may ask if this could happen here and the answer is no despite the fact that Government funding of the Parks is under great pressure like many other areas at present.
Firstly, the National Parks are not generally owned by the Government as is the case in the States. A large amount of land within the UK National Parks is owned by private landowners. Farmers and organisations like the National Trust are some of the landowners, along with the thousands of people who live in the villages and towns. National Park Authorities sometimes own bits of land, but they work with all landowners in all National Parks to protect the landscape.
Secondly, it would be impossible to restrict access to the National Parks. It’s not like the States where many of the Parks are separate areas with a single access road into the Park area which can easily be closed off as was the case recently. Many of our roads passing though the Parks are required to gain access to other parts of the country and to privately owned land.
My final reason although I am sure there are many more, would be that hopefully we would not be so “short sighted” enough to cause such harm, both short and long term to the economy and tourism never mind the suffering of all those government employees, citizens and visitors in the States, the latter of whom may consider very hard in deed whether they ever return.
So that concludes my slightly unusual post and whilst I hope that the situation in the States never arises again, although I somehow doubt it, there are plenty of reasons to spend time in our National Parks here in the UK the main one being that they always open.
Finally can I please thank all the Americans that I met whilst over there for such a warm welcome and for making an extra special effort to apologise for the actions of their Government even though it was through no fault of their own.