[Marxism] Blog Post: Whither the National Parks?

MICHAEL YATES mikedjyates at msn.com
Sun Oct 4 13:43:30 MDT 2009

Full at http://blog.cheapmotelsandahotplate.org


In light of the interest in the national parks of the United States generated by Ken Burns' new PBS documentary, I thought that readers might be interested in what I wrote about the parks in my book, Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue. I will have some additional thoughts after I view the entire series. I welcome reader comments. I have placed some new explanatory remarks in brackets.  The Addendum provides a sketch of one of the main National Park concessionaires.


Whither Our National Parks


Between early May and late August [of 2004. Since then, we have been to many more parks and monuments], we visited Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mt. Rainier, and Olympic National Parks, and Walnut Creek, Tuzigoot, Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki, Bandelier, and Colorado National Monuments. All are national treasures; each one has scenery as dramatic as most persons will ever see: natural bridges and arches, waterfalls, fantastic canyons, buttes, monoliths, and hoodoos, and astonishing rapids. We were in these parks dozens of times. Seldom were we disappointed; almost always we were exhilarated. It is impossible to see the Balanced Rock and Delicate Arch in Arches, Grand View in Canyonlands, the sand beaches and lush foliage in the Narrows in Zion, the thousand-year-old trees in Rainier’s Grove of the Patriarchs, or the eight-hundred-year-old petrified lava flows at Sunset Crater and not be mindful of the vast indifference of nature and our insignificant part in it. The human world, with its relentless injustices and inequalities, is put in sharp relief and made all the more intolerable. In the face of such beauty, it is surely an unforgivable crime for any society to let its people live in misery.


But if the parks are beautiful, they are also the products of the social structures that created them. Yellowstone was our first national park, established in 1872. Already when George Catlin [painter, author, and traveler, 1796-1872] was waxing eloquent about establishing “a magnificent park, where the world could see for ages to come, the native Indian in his classic attire, galloping his wild horse, with sinewy bow, and shield and lance, amid the fleeting herds of elks and buffaloes,” white settlers and the government had begun brutal campaigns to remove the natives from their land. The history of the national parks is marked by systematic and, for the most part, successful efforts to remove indigenous people from them. In Yellowstone, for example, many Indians traversed what is today the park to hunt, but a cornerstone rule in the national parks is that there cannot be any hunting. In some cases the “treaties” entered into by the U.S. government guaranteed the Indian nations traditional hunting rights, but these agreements were routinely broken. (I put treaties in quotes because these treaties were ordinarily faits accomplis made after white settlers had entered and taken possession of land and the government stood ready to ratify this theft by force if necessary.)

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