National parks are protected treasures throughout the world. Famous among them are Yosemite National Park in the U.S., Canada’s Banff National Park, Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, Australia’s Kakadu National Park, and countless others around the globe. One thing that is common to all is that the memories we carry from them are often held close for the rest of our lives.
I count myself as very lucky. Though my father was often away for long military deployments, he would save his leave so that our family could go on a multi-week road trips visiting national parks throughout the U.S.
I got to see the real “Firefall” in Yosemite National Park when actual embers from a bonfire at the top of Glacier Point were pushed over a cliff to create a glowing “waterfall” spilling onto the rocks below. The crazy practice started as tourist entertainment in 1871 by the owner of the Glacier Point Hotel. The nightly event continued on-and-off right up until 1968. 1 The National Park Service ended the practice as their mission became more focused on “an expanded program of ranger-naturalists interpreting the natural features of the park.” 2
The video below from the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau has actual video footage of the man-made Firefall! 3
As a child who took the words of Smokey Bear very seriously, the Firefall seemed risky to me, but I’ve never forgotten being mesmerized with my family standing in the Yosemite Valley looking up at Glacier Point. Many visitors to Yosemite today enjoy a different—and much safer “firefall”—at sunset each February when the angle of light hits Horsetail Fall on El Capitan just right so that the cascading water takes on an orange glow. 1
While the bonfire waterfall at Yosemite is one of my favorite memories from family vacations, there are countless others I could share…
-The time one of those naturalist rangers in Redwood National Park stomped on a giant puffball fungus to demonstrate a massive release of spores. Too bad I didn’t use my Brownie Starmite camera to get a picture of that, but you can watch a guy with a T-shirt that says “DAD” swat a giant puffball on the roof of a car in this video—it’s spectacular! 4
-A visit to Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park ensured I would never grow up to even think about stealing anything after quietly contemplating “conscience pile” displays of stolen petrified wood mailed back to the park with letters of apology admitting things like, “They are beautiful, but I can’t enjoy them. They weigh like a ton of bricks on my conscience. Sorry.” 5
Some of the rock thieves thought they were cursed from taking the petrified wood and returned the rocks with messages like this: “Please put this back so my husband can get well. I tried to keep him from taking it. Distraught Wife of Sacramento, Ca.” 5 It was a life-changing visit for me and all I took from the Petrified Forest was a lesson in morality!
You can see photos of some of these conscience letters in this interesting article about how park managers are trying to create a more positive and welcoming visitor experience today as they move away from a sensibility where park visitors were perceived by rangers as potential rock robbers.5
I could go on, but it would be wonderful to hear from readers what are some of YOUR favorite memories of visits to national parks around the world. Please share!
1Chodosh, Sara. Remember that time Yosemite’s firefall was actual fire? Popular Science. 16 February 2017.
2Masters, Nathan. The Firefall, Yosemite’s Lost Tourist Tradition. KCET (Public Media Group of Southern California). 28 February 2017.
3Video: Yosemite Nation. Yosemite’s Firefall Horn. 24 October 2020.
4Video: PDCC500. Smashing a Giant Puffball Mushroom. 5 September 2007.
5Romeo, Jonathan. Petrified Forest now embraces visitors rather than treating them as suspects. 16 January 2020. The Journal.
R.A. Kroft writes about her day-to-day journey in living a smaller, more sustainable life and other topics that interest her.
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