Celebrating 100 years of Our National Parks at Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde

Me Overlooking Spruce Tree House

Me Overlooking Spruce Tree House

Touring Mesa Verde National Park

Touring Mesa Verde National Park

You’ve probably heard that 2016 marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the National Park Service. Often referred to as America’s Best Idea, there are more than four hundred parks within our beautiful country and I think fall is one of the best times to visit them. In celebration of this milestone, there’s one more entrance-free day left and I find it appropriate that this one takes place on Veteran’s Day, November 11.

To me, it feels like I’m living within a national park in my home of Telluride, Colorado. I believe that Ken Burns, renowned filmmaker of America’s National Park series and many other inspiring documentaries, feels similarly. Perhaps this is why he spends so much time in our little box canyon mountain town. I did an interview with him a while back on our national parks that is still very pertinent today. Do check it out here.

Even so, I love venturing out and exploring the real deal. Fortunately, we have a couple national parks in Colorado within about an hour-and-a-half drive of Telluride: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park. (The latter is also a World Heritage Site.) I visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my parents six years ago toward the end of a big southwest tour that also showcased Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Click here to read Touring the Southwest with My Parents, which features those two world-renowned destinations. At the end of that trip, I also visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with them and I highlight this amazing national park in Part Four of a series of stories I did about rafting in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. After you read about this little-known national park, check out Rafting and Roughing it on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Part One, Part Two and Part Three–it was a big outdoor adventure that I hope to do again some day. You just might want to plan a similar trip there yourself.

Speaking of world famous sites, it always strikes me that at America’s National Parks I see an overwhelming number of foreigners. Sometimes I think they value what we have more than most of us. Possibly. In any event, I hope this story and the photos herein will prompt you to break out and savor what we are so blessed to behold within our nation’s borders. I also think it might be a great way to blow out some election overload!

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Ken Burns on America’s National Parks and Telluride

Ken Burns and "National Parks" Producer Dayton Duncan

Ken Burns and “National Parks” Producer Dayton Duncan

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been moved to tears every night this week watching Ken Burns’s six-part series, “The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea,” on PBS.  This work was a labor of love for this master documentarian for some ten years and I think most of America is grateful for it finally being available for all to see.  “It is the history of the ideas and the individuals that made this uniquely American thing happen,” Ken told me in a Travel Fun interview I conducted with him early September.  “For the first time in history, land was set aside for the people,” he continued.

You may listen to the entire forty-minute interview I conducted with Ken by clicking on the play button here:

Ken also chats about his twenty-year relationship with Telluride.  “It’s my lover,” he says. Listen to the podcast to find out why.   You’ll also learn more about Ken’s two-decade long relationship with the Telluride Film Festival and why he calls it “the best festival on the planet.”

I was lucky enough to see one of Ken’s films on our National Parks on the big screen at Telluride’s Mountain Film Festival last May.  Read about that experience here.

Book Picks

“Ken Burns:  The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea” at www.shoppbs.org/home.  You can buy this must-have tome and the DVD and receive the CD soundtrack for free.

Play

America the Beautiful

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

I had been in Aspen most of off-season and didn’t return to Telluride until the tail end of Memorial Day Weekend which also marked the closing of Mountain Film.  Fortunately I arrived in time to catch the last film in the six-part series of “The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea,” by renowned documentarian Ken Burns.  I was truly captivated.

I knew I’d see magnificent landscapes (which was part of the reason I wanted to see at least one segment on the big screen even though all will be aired on PBS this fall).  I didn’t imagine, however, that I’d feel so emotionally connected to this work.  Sure spectacular scenery and great vistas can be stirring, but it is largely the people that recount the many stories behind our national parks that moved me to tears.   Most of our more than fifty national parks were born out of the efforts of extremely perseverant individuals and small groups of people, hearty, committed souls determined to preserve some of the most extraordinary corners of our country.  Few of the parcels came easily and opposition arose from many factions including big business and government.

But as Ken Burns illustrates, our national parks (and national monuments and national forests) embody the spirit of our country.  These sites are also where some of our most significant family memories have been forged.  There’s a sense of nostalgia and familiarity evoked in both the old and new footage that makes up “The National Parks” and one can’t help considering many of the places featured like old friends even without having actually visited the location.

National parks are an American invention—it’s no wonder this concept of preserving a place has been exported to almost every country on earth.  After eight years of considerable neglect and with interest that will surely be spurred by this fascinating documentary, we can only hope that our national parks will experience a surge of renewed interest.  “We’re fast approaching the centennial in 2016, “ Ken Burns said at the Tellluride premiere of this great work.  “This is a grand opportunity to reach people that haven’t been reached before.”

Biscayne National Park, Florida, Whose Story Was Told in Part Six of "The National Parks"

Biscayne National Park, Florida

The above photos were taken by Quang-Tuan Luong, a passionate photographer that has photographed all fifty-eight of America’s national parks.  Quang was also present at Mountain Film with Ken.  Be sure to visit his site to appreciate the full breadth of his work—it’s like taking a quick tour through our national parks!  You can also purchase his prints online.  And guess what?  Quang grew up in France.  I’ve found that it sometimes takes foreigners—often the French, in fact—to fully appreciate what we have in our own backyard.

Mountainfilm Mania

Banner Over T-ride

Banner Over T-ride

Festival season has arrived here in Telluride and it kicks off today with Mountainfilm. “It’s a weird mix of film fest, think tank and jamboree,” says Mountainfilm Director, David Holbrooke.  “It’s both low key and intense, loose, yet focused,” he continues.  Indeed Mountainfilm is where some of the best minds in the country come to share their ideas through art, film, presentations and books.  David discussed the essence of this Memorial Day weekend tradition in Telluride and its 2009 lineup during a recent Travel Fun interview.  This year’s theme is food, so, of course, there will be a lot to whet your appetite—for your body, mind and soul.

For me, one of the main attractions this year includes the premiere of “The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea,” by master documentarian Ken Burns.  “I think he’s taught more people about the history of America than anyone else,” David says about Ken Burns referring to his documentaries on the Civil War, World War II, jazz, baseball and more.  You can tune in to PBS this fall  to view this six-part series about the history of our national parks.

“The people that come to Mountainfilm are leaders of a paradigm we need to head to whether culturally or environmentally,” David emphasizes.  Such people include renowned chef Ming Tsai, mountain adventurer Conrad Anker, animal activist Paul Watson and reporter Nicholas Kristof, to name a few.  David’s dad, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, will participate via a tele conference since world affairs prevent him from being at the festival in person.

Be sure to visit the MF Store to purchase DVDs highlights from the festival and definitely take in some of the events if you’re in Telluride this weekend.

Book Picks

“Deep Economy,” by Bill McKibben

“Edge of Never,” by Bill Kerig

Both authors and many others will be present at this year’s Mountainfilm.

 
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