National Geographic : 1958 May
Heritage of Beauty and History-The National Parks National Park Mountain, the greedy sound of a trout sucking in a grasshopper, the distant song of a coyote. While the campfire danced under the starry sky, the men discussed what should be done with this country they had been exploring for nearly five weeks. In the group sat Gen. Henry D. Washburn, Surveyor-General of Montana Territory; Nathaniel P. Langford, vigilante law enforcement officer who later became Yellowstone's first superintendent; and 2d Lt. Gustavus C. Doane, U. S. Army. At first they argued about staking personal claims, but Cornelius Hedges, a judge in Montana Territory, demanded that Yellow stone's unique natural beauty not be owned by a few individuals. "I feel it should be a national park," he said. The other leaders agreed, and promised to urge the proposal as vigorously as they could. These men kept their word, and such was their prominence that Congress passed the Yellow stone establishment act two years later. I know of nobody today who seriously questions the wisdom of that Congressional decision. Further, each succeeding Congress and every Presidential administration since 1872 has strengthened and added to the con cept proclaimed around the Yellowstone campfire. President Eisenhower and the pres ent Congress are no exceptions. They have given strong support to the national parks, even though such support costs a lot of money. Early Visitors Captured by Indians Curious visitors started coming to the first national park right away. Sometimes they had more adventures than fun. Some of Chief Joseph's Nez Perce Indians attacked and robbed two parties of tourists in 1877, but left them their scalps. I wonder what these good folk would think could they come back to the parks today and see Indians serving as rangers, fighting fires, working as hotel bellhops, or staging the Hopi dances at El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon! Yellowstone became a huge success, and Congress created more parks. Sequoia, Yo semite, and Mount Rainier came into the new system of "pleasuring grounds," as they were first known, before the turn of the century. The year 1906 saw passage of the Antiqui ties Act. It permits Presidents to make national monuments of historically and scien tifically interesting places by simple proclama tion. This important law has given the Nation about half its National Park System. It was conceived originally to protect the Indian ruins of the Southwest from souvenir hunters. When a Lawyer Ran the Parks The Park Service was created as a bureau of the Department of the Interior in 1916. Until that time Interior had been running parks as a sort of extra chore. Most of the work fell to W. B. Acker, an assistant attorney for the department. He performed it with devotion, but since he had only limited time and facilities, he could not please everybody. One of his critics was Stephen T. Mather of Chicago, owner of a borax fortune. Mather wrote his old college friend Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, and said he thought the department was doing a pretty poor job with the parks. Retorted Lane: "If you don't like it, come and run the parks yourself." Mather accepted. One of the first men to whom Secretary Lane introduced him in Washington was Gil bert Grosvenor, then Editor, later President, and now Chairman of the Board of Trus tees of the National Geographic Society. Dr. Grosvenor enthusiastically supported Mather's plan for a specialized Park Service, helped write the legislation that created it, and guided The Society to a friendship with the parks that is as firm today as it was in the beginning. In 1915 Dr. Grosvenor went on a camping trip Mather arranged in California's Sierra Nevada for some influential people he hoped would help sell his park ideas (pages 596-7). Golden Castles Overhang This Trail in Bryce Canyon, Utah Created in 1928, Bryce Canyon National Park preserves a veritable city of sculptured figures, domes, spires, and temples in a strip 20 miles long. Here park naturalists guide hikers along Navajo Loop Trail. Many parties number 100 strong. Horses ford Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (next two pages). Raw beauty of the great Front Range of the Rockies distinguishes this park, established in 1915. Amid glacial meadows and evergreen forests rise 65 named peaks ex ceeding 10,000 feet. Through them winds a cloud-drifted highway, one of the Nation's highest. Kodachromes by William Belknap, Jr. (opposite) and National Geographic Photographer Kathleen Revis © N.G.S. 4 PRECEDING PAGES FOLD OUT.