The last thirteen miles of our trip were a gift from Bryce Canyon National Park. In the trees away from the road hid a beautifully paved two lane bike path. We exited the skinny shoulder of the road and left the passing cars behind. It was glorious and blissful to be immersed in a tunnel of trees: juniper, spruce, ponderosa, and pinyon. Manzanita, rabbit brush, and sage poked out of the dirt next to our wheels.
The paved path we found is the coincidentally the one we started on. On our first day of the trip, we rode from Bryce Canyon City into the park for five miles on the paved bike trail. What we didn’t know is that the trail started thirteen miles back, which we now intersected and discovered.
It was surreal biking back into Bryce. Suddenly it felt like we hadn’t been gone long at all. A bicycle worm hole spit us back in time. It was exuberant biking up that plateau: the hill I feared the whole trip was easy because I was mentally stronger.
The dreamy path winded us through a beautiful canyon of red rocks. The crumbling mesas revealed rounded spires of red and white rock. Hoodoos stuck out of the earth in human-like lumpy shapes. There were castles of green and windows of light shining through the canyon. Our last day riding was blissful and hot.
Once in the park, we were surrounded by people again. We passed more bikers that day than on our whole trip combined. Some fit folks were riding mountain bikes. They were the happiest bikers, as they had just finished a classic 8 mile downhill ride on the Thunder Mountain Trail that connected to this bike path. When they saw our bike loaded down with bags, they smiled or whooped or stopped to talk with us. They wanted to know how far we had come, where we were going and for how long. We swapped stories about what we glorious things we had seen that day and carried on.
One woman on a mountain bike said, “I’m so glad you have each other to travel with. Have fun!”
Other riders were wearing Bryce Canyon National Park t-shirts and rung bike bells to alert us of their impending arrival. They passed us without a single bead of sweat ruffling their unwrinkled t-shirts. They were riding e-bikes: the hot new thing on the tourist market.
While riding through the park, the #1 questions we were asked was:
“Is that a real bike?”
“Are those e-bikes or real bikes?”
“Are you pedaling the whole way?”
Seeing all of these e-bike riders surprised me. I wasn’t aware of the trend, I didn’t know they existed. My first reaction was: get a real bike, loser! My first reactions are usually full of kindness like that. E-bikes became a topic of our conversation for the rest of the day and a source of interest in researching days after getting home from our bike trip.
“I’d rather have a bunch of e-bikes than ATVs running around,” Ian said.
“I guess I’m a fan of anyone getting interested in bikes,” I reasoned.
We pedaled past places that rented e-bikes, advertising signs with buzz words like “eco-friendly, zero emissions, pollution free, and a green way to have fun!” Isn’t what they’re selling true for a regular bike? Why go reinventing the wheel? What’s the deal with e-bikes anyway?
Here’s some thoughts after researching e-bikes:
Potential Cons of E-bikes:
Potential Pros for E-bikes
“You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe.”Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Too many cars are entering national parks. There aren’t enough parking spaces. The National Park explorer can expect traffic jams, lines that last hours both in the car and on the trail, or cars parked randomly, running over vegetation instead of in a designated parking lots.The experience of National Parks is shifting from wilderness to commercial tourism. Driving and photography have risen to park’s most popular activities.
In 2021, Arches National Park reached full capacity and closed it’s entrance by 8AM. The park had to close its gates 120 times this season. In Kirk Siegler’s article published on NPR, families reported hiking to Delicate Arch and finding “a line nearing 100 people deep, all waiting to take the exact same photo that makes it look to friends and family back home that they’re here in solitude.”
July was Yellowstone’s busiest month in park history, exceeding 1 million visitors.
Yay! More people care about wilderness and want to see it! Not exactly. With increased visitors, the parks have seen an upsurge of trash, graffiti, collisions with cars and wild animals, and human feces on trail.
People are literally shitting on our parks.
Worse, writers from The Guardian are reporting fist fights for parking spaces.
A common phrase that’s been thrown around in recent years is: Americans are Loving Public Lands to Death.
A sad realty is approaching: we didn’t protect enough land. There’s not enough natural spaces for all the people and cars and buses who want to see these magical lands.
National Parks were once envisioned as a place to disconnect from the modern world of technology and daily routine. Take a week off work, leave your house and your landline telephone, drive with a paper map into the unknown and don’t talk to your neighbors, family, or friends until you get back. Oh, what stories you could tell! You left the luxuries of home and experienced something raw and spectacular. You saw the wildest, most pristine and untouched landscape of your life.
This is not our reality. The dream of National Parks is to protect, educate, and provide humans with a place to experience full immersion in the wilderness.
The tragedy of parks today is the dismissal of this vision. Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Bryce, and Zion are all expanding their cell phone service and available WiFi in the park. You can sit on a bench at the base of Half Dome scrolling on Instagram. You can check your email with your feet in the Virgin River with thousand foot canyon walls behind you. You can sit in a National Park and be mentally 10,000 miles away with the internet at your fingertips.
National Parks are no longer an escape into the wilderness.
People are falling to their deaths off cliff faces while taking selfies with nature. “Social media is the number one driver,” said Maschelle Zia, who manages Horseshoe Bend for the Glen Canyon national recreation area. “People don’t come here for solitude. They are looking for the iconic photo.”
Going to parks not to look at the mountains but to see what you look like in front of the mountains? People are less concerned with how much snow fell this winter, what rate our streams are flowing at and now focused on how their ass looks next to the river in a bikini thong. How many likes or comments will they get? Will people actually see their photo and like them more now that their Instagram shows that they are “outdoorsy?” I’ve seen women walking through National Parks parking lots in heels, floor length dresses and a full face of makeup with a camera man in tow. I’ve watched couples trample off trail through fields of wildflowers to snap a perfect photo of them making out with mountains leaving behind smushed, sad flowers.
To me all of this screams: humans today are disconnected from nature.
More and more we see nature as something to do. Going to nature is an activity or a bucket list item. We are not seeing our life force clearly.
When we look at water and only see a place to swim, we are disconnected from what sustains us to live. When we see a large tree and only think to take a picture and forget to give thanks, we are disconnected from what we need to breathe. When we see rain and complain that the storm has ruined our plans, we are disconnected from the cycles we depend on.
We are not really seeing nature when we look at it through a screen. We are not really experiencing our environment when we drive past it. We are not really a part of the mountains on a paved road looking up at them. We are not really immersing ourselves in the quiet when we bring music. We are not participating if we are only taking photos.
We need to immerse ourselves.
We could ride bikes more.
What better way to combat the idea that humans are separate from nature than hopping on a bicycle?
E-bike or regular bicycle, I don’t care. I want you to feel the wind knot your hair. I want your stomach to drop in fear when you turn the corner and a bison is standing there, infinitely larger than you with no glass or door separating you. I want you to feel the hot sun and sweat drip down your back, not get back into your air conditioned car after a five minute photo shoot. I want you to touch the red rock and feel it crumble in your hands and see that it is made up of tiny bits of sand.
The bike allows us to smell the cow shit on the side of the road. On the bike we can feel the air temperature drop when we enter a valley: we can smell when water is nearby. We can follow our curiosities. We can stop and explore a side canyon or pick up a skull and feel the rough texture of decaying bone. We can stop and chat with the road worker.
On bicycles, we can feel connected to our bodies, our environment and our community.
Imagine a National Park without cars. Imagine a National Park with cyclists waving, whooping and hollering as you pass by, shooting the shit with each other at overlooks about bikes and bags and routes. Imagine a National Park without any lines. Imagine the freedom of pedaling through a National Park on a bike and experiencing solitude. Imagine a National Park quiet.
What are the parks doing to combat overcrowding?
What else could they be doing?
Speak up! If you love public lands and want to keep using it, use your voice here:
Ask President Biden to restore the boundaries of Bear’s Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. President Donald Trump shrunk these monuments, took away funding and opened them up for drilling and mining. Learn more about this conflict here. Get involved with the Grand Canyon Trust here.
Sign a petition to keep Rocky Mountain National Park from using a reservation system. “If you love the National Parks and believe in their mission of being open and free places of refuge, you must ask the National Park Service to immediately suspend plans for a permanent reservation system until a full public review is held. This system will create second-class citizenship for many Americans and deprive them of fair use of natural wonders set aside for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.”
Speak up to stop drilling in Big Cypress National Preserve. “Big Cypress is home to rare wild creatures like Florida panthers and bonneted bats. It now provides almost half of the water for Everglades National Park. But an oil company is applying for permits to drill here, threatening all those priceless plants and animals and the ecosystems they live in. We can’t let that happen. Please join us in requesting that these permits to drill in Big Cypress be denied.”
Protect the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge here. “Twin Pines Minerals wants to mine a large swath of land right next to the refuge, risking permanent destruction of the world-renowned Okefenokee Swamp. It’s the first step in a plan to mine nearly 8,000 acres.”
Save the Redwoods from an unnecessary highway here. “The proposed highway-widening project would cut into and pave over root systems of thousand-year-old trees, causing dieback of the canopy and possible loss of parts of the grove of irreplaceable redwoods.”
Help protect the desert tortoise by saying no to a highway through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. “In its final days, the Trump administration approved a proposal to bulldoze a four-lane highway right through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in southwestern Utah.“
Protect Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve here.“A proposed 211-mile industrial mining access road would disrupt caribou migration, the subsistence lifestyles of rural Alaskans, and the integrity of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.”
Here’s a comprehensive list of things you can do to take action with the National Parks Conservation Association.
Follow the recovery of wolves at Isle Royale National Park.
Most importantly, go outside and have fun. Ride your bicycle. Sit on your porch and listen. Drink coffee with the rising sun, eat lunch with a tree, throw frisbees at your kids, take your dog for a walk, roll your car windows down and breathe. We are blessed with a beautiful earth. We don’t have to go to a National Park to experience nature.
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