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Your Guide To The National Parks: The Complete Guide To All 58 National Parks

Author : Michael Joseph Oswald
Published : 2012-07-01

Coming soon to book dealers is a hefty new guide to the national parks -- the 58 "national parks" -- that strives to go a step further than the texts offered by publishers such as Fodor's, Frommers, and Falcon Guides.

Tipping the scales at nearly three pounds, Your Guide To The National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 58 National Parks was crafted by Michael Joseph Oswald, whose intention was to evolve the usual approach to leading readers through national parks.

Though he holds degrees in engineering and chemistry, Mr. Oswald put that career track on hold to instead explore the National Park System, something he took two years to do.

It’s always great to see a guidebook produced from outside the usual list of big house publishers. With the number of guides they churn out, those publishers turn to a cookie cutter approach of sorts that their authors must follow. A little personalization can be inserted into those guidelines, but not a lot as editorial templates guide the writers.

With Your Guide To The National Parks, Mr. Oswald has followed his own lead in crafting the text. For instance, in the chapter on Glacier National Park, he introduces you to the park through George Bird Grinnell who “came to northwestern Montana on a hunting expedition; he found a land so beautiful and majestic that he named it ‘the Crown of the Continent. More than 100 glaciers capped the mountains’ rugged peaks. Turquoise lakes dotted the high country. Green forests spread out as far as his eye could see. It was a land completely unspoiled by human hands. Grinnell returned again and again.”

The narrative goes on to explain how Grinnell wound up working with the Great Northern Railway to push his vision for a national park across the landscape, and broadens the history to include the Blackfeet Indians, Stephen Mather, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The Yellowstone chapter, while duly noting the late 1800s expeditions that revealed the geothermal wonders to the public, also notes that Rufus Hatch, a principal in the Yellowstone Improvement Co. formed in the late 1800s, put dollars over protections: "trash was discarded in streams and fumaroles, tourists were charged exorbitant amounts, animals were killed for food, trees were chopped for construction, and coal was mined from park land."

Park chapters are lead out geographically, which is helpful if your vacation is focused on one part of the country. And they overflow with helpful information for the parks traveler. Mr. Oswald has done yeoman’s work with some of the reader service materials, ie. lists of lodgings, restaurants, nearby attractions, even festivals you might want to know of when you’re planning your park vacation.

Each park chapter provides a rundown on best activities in the specific park, campground information, fees, transportation information (airports and train connections, if available), best time of year to visit, and expansive park maps with highlights pointed out to help you figure out a plan of attack.

The chapters also provide the author’s favorite picks for top attractions, best activities (Red Jammer tours in Glacier, for example), and his favorite hikes. And there are more details sections on various activities, from hiking and horseback riding to backpacking and fishing. Charts provide helpful, at-a-glance information on hiking trails, camping, and lodging. And Mr. Oswald provides his suggestions for what definitely to see when you visit, and how many days to plan on.

There also are a handful of pages up front where he shares his thoughts on such topics as worst parks for bugs (Everglades, Alaska's national parks, Isle Royale among others), backcountry “cabins” (some are de facto lodges) you can use in places such as Great Smoky Mountains (LeConte Lodge), Grand Canyon (Phantom Ranch), and Haleakala (the Holua, Kapalaua and Paliku cabins) national parks, parks worst for traffic, those best for couples (Virgin Islands, Acadia and Mount Rainier are just three), and best in winter.

Park chapters also contain small sidebars on some aspect of the park in question. In the Saguaro National Park chapter, for example, there’s a sidebar on the natural history of saguaro cacti, while the chapter on Petrified Forest offers a “recipe” for petrified wood (“let sit for several centuries” is a key ingredient).

In addition to the approach Mr. Oswald takes with his coverage, this book is unusual for several other reasons: It’s four-color and features gorgeous photos from the parks in question. And it was printed in the United States, a shocker in this day and age when most guidebooks seem to be printed overseas.

In short, this a great, almost encyclopedic, guide to help you prepare for your park visits.


Once again, the public falls victim to the silly name game. The places named national "park" have no special significance over the other units of the National Park System. When will the NPS wake up and work with Congress to stop this ridiculous naming system that just confuses the public and diminishes support for the national monuments, battlefields, lakeshores, and other areas every bit as worthy of protection and visiting as such "crown jewels" as Hot Springs National Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

It's sad when people have to denigrate other Parks to try to make thier point, as "Anonymous" has. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an important park for the NPS because of it's location between 2 urban areas: Cleveland and Akron. Cuyahoga Valley provides the NPS and other park with a best practices model for how to mitigate urban pressures on a natrual ecosystem. Something that more parks will surely face in the future. It also provides millions of people with an opportunity to experience a natural setting on a regular basis, not once in a lifetime, as many other parks do becauase of their remote locations. Cuyahoga Valley is also a free park which offers many underserved individuals a chance to enjoy nature.

On the contrary - it is writing a book on "58 national parks" that denigrates every park that does not have that title. I was not denigrating Cuyahoga Valley, I was making the point that the title designations are meaningless. Cuyahoga is no more or less the park it was when it was a National Recreation Area. It is the author of this book that denigrates Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Cumberland Island National Seashore by implying they are more worth than Cuyahoga.

Anonymous, the public is a "victim" and Congress has confused them and diminshed the support for parks because of the naming system? Are you joking? I think the public is smart enough to know the difference and they choose to visit parks based on personal preferences.

And it does not appear the book is about protection. It appears to be a great book on how to explore the National Parks and that sounds like a great idea. If there is a demand for how to enjoy to battlefields, I am sure someone will write a book. But I don't think there is a lack of demand because of a confusing name.

The names matter for some (many?) units: rename Dinosaur National Monument as Yampa-Green National Park and watch the crowds come. Ditto for Oregon Caves, Craters of the Moon, and many others. Even some well-known places would be viewed differently with a different title: imagine Apostle Islands, Indiana Dunes, Cape Hatteras, Santa Monica Mountains or Padre Island national parks. (My students from the Chicago area don't realize that Indiana Dunes is a national park unit.) Let's not forget the political controversies if you renamed Big Thicket, Big Cypress, or Tallgrass Prairie national preserves, or NRAs like Big South Fork or Lake Mead.

It wouldn't matter much for places like Fort Laramie, New Orleans Jazz or Lincoln Birthplace. I wonder if it would matter for Devils Tower or Mount St. Helens.

Sounds like quite a book, by the way.

Um...this guy just spent two years of his life traveling, camping, hiking and paddling across some of the best or nation has to offer to give us useful information. I'll give the guy a rest before I start hacking on him to hit national seashores, monuments and preserves (but ya, i'd love to know more practical stuff about them too!)

Unfortunately, what something is named can be important. Most of the public does not understand the difference between the various classifications of park service units. In fact, I dare say that most have little idea of the difference between a national park and a national forest. People who read this site are not typical of the general public, in my opinion. If the goal is to increase public visitation, than calling a site a national park, instead of say a national recreation area, is likely to get more people to visit, even though the landscape has not changed. Regarding the book "Your Guide to the National Parks", I have not read it, and thus have no comment on it, other than to say that the author is free to make his own decision about what to include and what to exclude in his book. If someone feels it denegrates other protected lands, then they are free to not purchase it.

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