Whenever someone I meet in my travels asks me the best thing about the United States, the National Parks system is always the first thing that immediately comes to mind. There are plenty of places in the world that have incredible national parks, but the National Parks of the USA are special in their breadth and scope. Rock formations and rainforests, caves and canyons, islands and geysers and volcanoes and mountains… there’s something for everyone, representing the most incredible of Mother Nature’s offerings and welcoming over 300 million visitors per year.
Like everyone who love the National Parks system, I am heartbroken to read about the damage being caused to the parks by unsupervised visitors during the government shutdown. Trash overflows the rubbish bins, and let’s not even mention the toilets. Worse, there have been reports of vandals cutting the endangered namesake trees of Joshua Tree National Park in order to create access for their 4WD vehicles. Even during normal operating, there are many instances of graffiti and carved rocks from people who are too inconsiderate to follow Leave No Trace principles, so I can only imagine how much worse it is at the moment.
If you are also devastated by the destruction these thoughtless visitors are doing to some of the world’s most stunning sites, here are some ways you can help:
Earlier this week Steve and I headed a few hours north of Wellington to Tongariro to do the Tongariro alpine crossing. One of the highlights of the North Island, this 19-kilometre hike is known for some pretty epic natural formations including turquoise-tinted geothermal pools and the intimidating Mount Ngauruhoe—or as you might know it, Mount Doom. It’s also known for its changeable weather, especially this late in the season. When we arrived at our hostel, we were told by the owner that the shuttle hadn’t run for a few days, but that the forecast was good for the following day and she was optimistic we would be able to do the hike. The next morning, under an overcast sky, the shuttle operator told us that he would take us up but that he recommended we wait for a less ominous day. We decided to go anyway and luckily—after two hours of rain—the skies miraculously cleared up and we were rewarded with incredible views.
Going on a holiday often means stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it means trying new cuisine that kinda grosses you out, sometimes it means navigating a country where you don’t know a word of the language, and sometimes it means venturing into the great outdoors when you’d normally rather be at the mall. There were definitely a few people we saw doing the crossing who weren’t particularly well prepared—like the folks on the shuttle with us who had to be driven to a local gear shop so they could rent rain jackets! While Steve and I only did our first overnight hike a few months ago, we’re experienced trampers and were ready for anything. If you’re thinking of exploring New Zealand or anywhere else known for its hiking, here are a few tips to help your tramping experience: