In honor of National Parks week I am excited to share with you Michael Lanza’s newest book Before They’re Gone – A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.
Michael Lanza is a veteran freelance outdoors writer and photographer. He is the northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, where his articles about the impacts of climate change on Montana’s Glacier National Park and other wild lands helped Backpacker win a National Magazine Award. He runs the website TheBigOutside (TheBigOutside.com).
We all know that I am a HUGE fan of our national parks and we have visited many with so many more on our bucket list. When we plan trips with J-Man a national park is usually one of our stopping points. J-man is 3 years old and has been to 11 national parks already. We get to camp, hike, add to J-man’s book collection from their visitor center and take in all the beauty they have to offer. It amazes me that there are folks who have lived in Moab their entire life and have never visited either of the national parks that are so close. Arches NP is 10 minutes from Moab and Canyonlands NP is 45 minutes. Completely crazy to me. Visitors come from around the world to visit these parks and locals don’t even experience it for themselves.
When I was asked to review Michael Lanza’s book Before They’re Gone I jumped on it. Lanza and his wife, Penny are hardcore outdoor enthusiasts who share their passions with their 2 young children, Alex and Nate, so, of course, I wanted to read all about that. I was also excited to read about the national parks Lanza ventured to with his wife and children and especially interested on his take of climate change and it’s effects on these places that have been preserved and protected but are now in danger.
Lanza along with his wife and 2 children and sometimes friends embarked on a year long adventure visiting 11 national parks that are being affected drastically by climate change. Lanza thought it was important to make the time NOW and show his children what these parks have to offer, how they have changed from his previous experiences visiting them and what they will look like in the coming years.
It was fun to read through the book and know exactly where they were at particular times in the parks since I’ve been to many of those locations. My palms got sweaty and my heart stopped as Lanza described a treacherous path during their hike in the Grand Canyon.
“I stop and stare at the trail ahead of us with the feeling like I’ve recently eaten something I shouldn’t have. Little more than a foot wide and plastered in hardpacked snow and ice, it clings to the face of a cliff with a drop-off of hundreds of feet. It evokes a ledge outside a skyscraper window on the eightieth floor, in a northern city locked in winter. At the trail’s narrowest point, the cliff bulges outward, as if the rock wall had a conscious desire to hip-check us into the yawning abyss of the Grand Canyon”.
Lanza traverses that ledge with is seven-year-old daughter gripping his hand and having every ounce of faith that her dad with guide them safely around the corner.
“So I smile and wink at Alex and tell her to “take small steps and go slow.” She nods and winks back-we have an understand. We shuffle forward. With my free hand, I clutch scrawny plants tenuously rooted to cracks oin the crumbly cliff face. A minute crawls past like an epoch. We round the corner to where the trail widens and becomes less exposed. Penny says, “Nice job, Alex,” and offers me a smile. I exhale a two-lug load of relief.”
Would you have continued on the trail or turned back? I contemplated that question over and over and I still don’t know what I would have done.
Although Lanza interviewed scientists, park rangers and naturalists to give us an accurate view of the past, present and future of these national parks this book is much more than a scientific book with facts and statistics about climate change. This book is filled with history of these national parks and humor as Lanza describes events and situations they happen upon. There is much seriousness when discussing climate change and how it’s affecting these precious areas. There is also guidance and parenting as Lanza shares these experiences with his children and adapts to their abilities in the wilderness.
“I’ve learned that hiking with kids is a bit like trying to predict the wind; things can seem to be in your favor, or not, and then abruptly reverse direction. I watch them for subtle hints of fatigue or hunger, such as lagging pace. They lack an adult’s self-awareness. They drink when I urge them, but not always enough. They’ll complain one moment that hiking embodies the most inhumane form of “torture,” and “this is the worst day of my life!” The next, they’ll dash ahead, suddenly excited. They imprecise barometers of their own physical condition. So I read them like an ancient mariner searching the night sky, trying to anticipate their needs before trouble arises.”
This book is inspiring and motivating. It has inspired me to make some of these places an urgency and priority to visit. I am anxious to kayak Glacier Bay National Park and backpack in Grand Teton National Park with J-Man. I am motivated to make changes to my carbon footprint and to contribute to the slowing of climate change.
This is one book you will thoroughly enjoy reading.
I had the opportunity to ask Michael Lanza some questions that were triggered from his book and here are his detailed and thoughtful answers…
1. How can we motivate parents to share with their children the importance and value of the national parks? (They were, after all, deemed national parks for a reason)
As bloggers, we can help motivate people through our stories and images, of course. Those are powerful motivators.
We all can also have a direct impact on the people we know and meet through encouraging them—and allaying their concerns if they have never visited a national park, or believe they’re not capable of hiking, or worry about safety. There are many people, from my immediate family (my parents, some siblings, nieces and nephews) to friends and acquaintances, who have become outdoors lovers because I took them out somewhere. I first fell in love with hiking when I was in my early twenties because friends took me hiking. Personal relationships are the best way to introduce someone to something new. It seems like a small start, but from small seeds grow big trees.
2. How did you physically and emotionally prepare Nate and Alex for their adventures?
Great question, and one I could write a book about. (Hey, there’s an idea!) But short of that, I would sum up my approach with four basic principles that also apply to introducing adults to a new outdoor activity:
1. Take small, conservative steps in your progression toward bigger challenges. If a child has never hiked more than, say, four miles in one day, work gradually up to hikes of six, seven miles and longer.
2. Evaluate not only the physical challenge of an outing, but the mental and emotional challenges of something that looks daunting or is unfamiliar to a child. What’s easy and familiar to you may intimidate a kid. Consider how your child has handled some previous experience that presented comparable stress potential.
For example, when I was thinking about taking my nine- and seven-year-old kids sea kayaking in Alaska’s Glacier Bay for this book, I considered that, even though they had never sea kayaked or been to Alaska (where weather can be very cold and wet), my kids had taken several backpacking trips, rock climbed, and cross-country skied in snowstorms. Not only do they have good endurance, but maybe most importantly, they understand that trips can have difficult, uncomfortable moments, and they follow instructions. Our guides were okay with relaxing their minimum-age requirement based on our kids’ past experience outdoors, and ultimately the guides were impressed with how well Nate and Alex handled that trip’s challenges.
3. Explain to your kids exactly what you will all be doing and what’s expected of them. Talk to them about it and make sure they understand. Welcome their questions and address their concerns. Let them know that you won’t ask them to do anything they are not comfortable with, and let them know that you are there to provide whatever help they need. Make them feel like they’re part of the decision-making process, so they have a sense of control over their own fate—which goes a long way toward relieving stress, no matter what your age.
4. Remember that kids look to their parents for a sense of how they should react to a potentially scary situation. Always show your kids that you are calm and in control. Show and tell them that you have faith in their ability to handle this challenge.
3. In your opinion is climate change an evolutionary process that is being sped up by humans or do you believe we have started this chain reaction?
Few subjects in science have been studied as much in recent years as climate change, and there remains no serious doubt about some fundamental conclusions: the Earth’s average land and sea temperatures are rising in conjunction with rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans, and our burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver behind it. The planet’s climate is no longer operating entirely under natural forces, as it had for four billion years. We humans are holding the steering wheel of climate, but we don’t know how to drive this car, and it’s careening out of control.
Many scientists now believe that a rise of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in average temperatures worldwide is unavoidable in this century, which could erase 40 percent of all species on the planet. I have to say it was really troubling to interview one leading scientist after another and hear every one of them express fear that we’re facing the greatest disaster in the history of human civilization—and that this fallout could occur within the lifetimes of my children, if not within my own lifetime.
Many scientists I interviewed echoed the comments of USGS research ecologist Nathan Stephenson, who told me, “Sometimes people say, ‘If this has happened in the past, why should we be worried?’ The simple answer is: you would not have wanted to be alive then. Civilizations have fallen on slight changes in climate.”
As I wrote in my book: Our conversation about climate has not achieved the degree of honesty we would use when talking with our own kids. We would not encourage them to make choices fraught with such a high degree of risk. Yet we as a people have embraced just that kind of choice time and again.
We have no reasonable option but to do much better.
4. You state in the book, “In one generation, we changed attitudes in America toward smoking cigarettes, driving while intoxicated, and wearing seatbelts…”. I believe those changes occurred quickly because all of those are much more personal. Seeing a loved one die of lung cancer, from being hit by a drunk driver or dying from a car accident where a seatbelt could have saved a life is a more personal consequence than the effects of climate change. Climate change is occurring on a more general scale that many do not even notice. How can we help the people understand the significance of it?
You’re right about that. Climate change feels more distant, both geographically and in time. But it seems that’s changing quickly. A recent poll showed a large majority of Americans believe that extreme weather events of recent years are connected to climate change. Record high temperatures are being constantly recorded all over the world. Major corporations are calculating the impacts of the shifting climate on their business. The Pentagon is preparing for a world growing more politically unstable as societies grapple with figuring out how to simply feed their people as crop failures increase.
I think we’re at the brink of a tectonic shift in public perception and understanding of climate change, one that could, hopefully, drive public policy in the right direction. We have to hope—especially for our children and grandchildren—this will happen fast enough and isn’t coming too late.
5. There are numerous actions we can take to help slow down climate change. For a busy family without much time on their hands to stop and think about appropriate choices what would be your top 3 changes they could make that would help contribute to slowing down climate change?
People can do a Web search and find reams of good advice on personal steps we can all easily take. But these would be my top three:
1. Reduce your personal carbon footprint through any or all of these easy steps: lower your thermostat in winter and use less air conditioning in summer; improve your home insulation; turn off unneeded lights; switch over to compact fluorescent light bulbs (which use two-thirds less electricity, saving money as well); and burn less gasoline by driving a more economical car and driving less (consolidate your local car trips, and walk or bike instead of driving whenever possible—which I find far more pleasurable than driving).
2. Plant a tree, which will absorb about one ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.
3. Write a letter to your congressman or congresswoman urging him or her to support aggressive legislation to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.
Thank you Michael for a wonderful read and an insight into our national parks.
Now for the…
Win a copy of Before They’re Gone
Leave a comment below sharing which national park is your favorite or if you haven’t visited one, which one you would like to visit.
This giveaway will end Thursday, May 3rd at midnight (MST)
Thank you Michael Lanza and Beacon Press for providing a book for this giveaway and review.