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June 13, 2021

Crowded National Parks

A Wall Street Journal article about the increasing popularity of our decreasingly funded national parks.

The jump is boosting economies in places like Moab, where surrounding Grand County recently reported the highest sales and use tax revenue ever in the third and fourth quarters of a year, said Chris Baird, county administrator. Businesses are so desperate for workers that a Moab McDonald’s has a sign offering $18 an hour, more than double the state’s minimum wage.

I don't know if it's really the same issue that I observed just last Thursday in Joshua Tree N.P. I drove to the Wall Street Mill parking area, intending to hike to (you'll never guess) Wall Street Mill. There was a "Parking Lot Full" sign on the Barker Dam parking area as I passed it, but there were only 2 or 3 cars in WSM parking. I saw 3 or 4 people on the trail to and back from Wall Street Mill. The Park Service has put up fresh (fresh to me, anyway) wire around the mill. No breaks. All the No Trespassing signs were upright. I was happy just to see that some loony hadn't torn down half the place in these COVID times.

When I got back to the trailhead I was feeling pretty good; the arthritis was not complaining too much. And it was the golden hour. So I decided to continue my hike on to Barker Dam, leaving my truck where it was. I followed the trail that joins up with the Barker Dam trail and then continued just to the dam and came back. That trail was busy! Well, busier than I was expecting it to be on a weekday with temperatures in the 90s. Eventually I realized that NO ONE in this diverse crowd of hikers (women & men, no kids, all races, multiple languages, some mixed groups, some homogenous) was older than about 35 except me.

The Barker Dam trail is just about the easiest trail in the park, and you get quite a bit of bang for only a little investment in walking - so it's just right for me. But these other hikers that looked like they'd been cast by Hollywood for a film about healthy, outdoor living? Why weren't they doing something a little more challenging? Or maybe the question is where are all the other over-35s? Sitting in their A/C maybe.

My final best guess is maybe a lot of people plan weekends in the high desert that starts with them leaving work after lunch on Thursday. They arrive at their accommodations in Joshua Tree (or, you know, wherever) and they have less than 3 hours of daylight left, so in their youthful excitement, they rush into the park and pick the safest, shortest hike they could squeeze in. I'm just making this up.

By the way, on my whole hike, both WSM and Barker Dam, I saw only one person wearing a mask. I did not wear one. I tried to avoid getting into one of those narrow parts with opposite direction hikers.

But the real highlight of the hike was a bird. On the hike into the dam I had heard the bird back in the shrubberies hammering with his beak, very woodpecker like, but I'm not saying it was a woodpecker. Then on my return hike the bird had come out to perch on a waist-high boulder in a curve at one of those narrow points. And it was fearless! I started out about 3 feet from him taking photos. The noise didn't seem to bother him. I moved closer and he shifted, but did not retreat. I stepped to my right and he pivoted, displaying himself in profile, keeping his eye on me. I took several photos. All black and white film, so we won't see those for at least a couple of weeks.

Filed under California | permalink | June 13, 2021 at 10:37 PM

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