The Story of the National Park Service
Before the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park
were revised, and large areas of lands, purchased in 1931, visitors
often were obliged to go miles to find a place to camp, for the reason
that the roads ran through private lands plastered with "No Trespassing"
signs. This often stirred Sagebrushers to anger and criticism of the
National Park Service. Of course, this situation was inherited by the
service when Rocky Mountain Park was created, and was no fault of the
Service in any degree whatever.
(From the Stanford University Press
It is the policy of the Department of the Interior to
secure, whenever possible, the exclusive jurisdiction of national park
territory for the federal government. Yellowstone Park, being older
than the states in which it lies, has been completely under jurisdiction
of federal authorities. The same is true in Hawaii and Alaska. In the
other parks, the states have certain civil and criminal jurisdiction,
though some of them have ceded authority to the federal government,
withholding only the right to tax private property and sometimes to
collect fishing license fees. Some states, notably Arizona and Utah,
have thus far not given up jurisdiction, thus compeling the park service
rangers to go about the protection of park property just as a private
property owner would remove a trespasser from his home. This
complicates administration somewhat and is one of the programs that
remains to be smoothed out by federal and local officials.
It is the policy of the National Park Service to
keep vast areas of the parks in absolutely natural condition, and for
that reason road-building plans contemplate making accessible only the
most unusual and distinctive features of the parks. As a rule, one main
highway across a park is enough. To care for the enormous number of
Sagebrushers who come to the parks each year, it is necessary to
hard-surface all roads and make them dustproof, else the beauties of
the parks are destroyed by those who want to enjoy them.
Leading off from the roads are trails over which the
wilderness lover can find the solitude he craves. Some sections of the
parks are denied even to the trail rider. They are remote areas
reserved for Nature exclusively and for future scientific study. About
the only wilderness areas remaining in the United States are found in
the national parks. Vast areas, including more than half of the territory
of the parks, are so far off the beaten paths that they are
visited by but few parties a year. It is hoped that they will never
become civilized, even when the airplane makes all spots of the earth
accessible, that they will remain as wild, as unblazed and untouched
as were the mountains of the West when Jim Bridger and Kit Carson and
other pioneer scouts first pushed into them.
The northern half of Yosemite Park is a wilderness
area of more than a quarter of a million acres. Nearly all of Grand
Teton, Olympic, Kings Canyon, and Glacier Parks, fully two-thirds of
Yellowstone's great area, the vast Kern River extension of Sequoia
Park, are all untouched, unblazed wilderness. The same is true of much
of the Grand Canyon below the rims, that part of Zion above and beyond
the rims, a very large part of Big Bend and Rocky Mountain Parks, and
over half of Mount Rainier Park. These areas are accessible only to the
person who so desires to get away from civilization that he will ride
the trails for days on end with only guides, wild animals, mountain
peaks, turbulent rivers, forests, and glaciers for company. In the
vast areas colloquially known among the rangers as "the back country,"
the nature lover can always find glorious solitude.
In the earliest acts of Congress relating to the
parks, provision was made for the granting of concessions under
franchise for private concerns to erect hotels, transportation lines,
and other service facilities. This policy, still fixed by Congress,
continues. The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to grant
franchises for terms not exceeding twenty years for the construction
and operation of facilities in the parks. The secretary approves the
franchises, which are specific grants of privileges to be exercised
within the park boundaries. These privileges must be exercised in
accordance with the law and the rules and regulations governing the
parks. Service must be rendered according to standards laid down by the
secretary and his representatives and at rates prescribed by the
It is the policy of the Government to grant only one
franchise for a certain type of service in a park. If extensions of
service are necessary, the secretary calls upon his franchise holder to
furnish the additional service. If the operator fails or refuses to
comply, the secretary may cancel the franchise or he may let another
operator furnish the needed service. In other words, the franchise
holder has the preferential right to furnish additional service when
In the early days of the parks, no one was able to
furnish sufficient capital to build hotels and to establish transportation
lines except the railroads. In the case of several of the
parks, all of the early facilities were established by interested
railroads in order that they might offer proper accommodations for
their passengers. Even today this condition still prevails in some of
the parks, notably Zion and Bryce Canyon National parks and the North
Rim of the Grand Canyon, where the Union Pacific has financed
improvements, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where the Santa Fe
Railroad and Fred Harvey have constructed facilities at great cost.
Also in Glacier Park the Great Northern built a magnificent chain of
hotels and chalets. In Yellowstone, the hotels were built originally by
the Northern Pacific Railroad. Later they were taken over by another
company, which operates both the chain of hotels and the extensive
motor transportation system. In Mount Rainier National Park the hotel
was originally financed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul
Railroad, and later was taken over by a group of citizens of Seattle
and Tacoma, interested in developing travel to the Northwest.
Public-spirited citizens of Portland financed the establishment of
facilities in Crater Lake Park.
In Yosemite the history of the operators in the park
has been a varied and an interesting one. The first inns in the valley
were little more than bars, and greater emphasis was laid on this phase
of hospitality than on comforts. Californians were quick to appreciate
the business possibilities of travel, even in the early days, and
within three years after the first party of tourists, led by J. M.
Hutchings, visited Yosemite Valley in 1855 two inns had been built in
the wilderness. The first of these was a saloon, built in the fall of
1856, to accommodate those early travelers who demanded their whisky
and their game of cards even in the shadow of El Capitan. The next year
it became apparent that visitors wanted to eat as well as to drink in
Yosemite, and the restaurant feature was added as an afterthought. This
building later became Black's Hotel, famed mainly as the home of John
Muir after his rupture with Hutchings.
The second of these inns was a blue canvas structure
erected by a man named Beardsley and later torn down to make way for a
wooden structure which Hutchings bought. For years Hutchings' House was
one of the landmarks of Yosemite and one of California's famous hostelries.
It achieved its personality more through the geniality of its
host than because of its comforts, which were notoriously lacking. For
some time Hutchings' House consisted of two rooms, one upstairs, one
down. The women were herded upstairs to sleep. The men stayed down.
Visiting notables, often nobles from abroad, slept side by side with
nobodies. Later, Hutchings improvised rooms of paper walls, with
curtains for doors, and gentlemen were allowed to sleep with their
wives in Hutchings' House, though even whispers were heard all through
the house and the shadows made lively pantomimes on the partitions.
These little discomforts, for the most part, were taken in good nature
by the guests and laughed off as the shortcomings of a host who recited
poetry as he served breakfast in the morning.
Another old inn, popular in its day, was Leidig's
Hotel at the foot of Sentinel Rock. The old Stoneman House was built by
the state of California to attract visitors to the leading wonder of
the Golden State. It was destroyed by fire. Another picturesque inn was
Snow's House at the foot of Nevada Falls, crude in its accommodations
but warm in its hospitality. Another show place was John Smith's
Cosmopolitan House, a place of simple exterior, but equipped with a
barber shop, a pool hall, a writing-room, andwonder of
wondersbathtubs with hot and cold water. Smith packed in on
horseback the furnishings for his hotel, including bathtubs,
full-length mirrors, elaborate glass goblets, and an amazing array of
The originator of the permanent camp idea in the
national parks and probably in the United States as well was W. W.
Wylie, who in the early 'nineties began taking parties through
Yellowstone National Park with covered wagons, saddle horses, and other
movable equipment and stock. For years he took ever increasing numbers
of people through the Yellowstone, making camp each night, putting up
cook tent, sleeping tents, canvas shelters for horses and wagons. The
melodeon furnished music for community singing around campfires in the
evening, and Professor Wylie lectured for a while each evening on the
features of the park. After a while his parties grew so large that he
had to have several outfits. He purchased comfortable stages for his
guests. Soon he found that he could not keep on moving these big
parties with equipment that had to be taken down each morning and set
up each night. He arranged finally to leave his camps standing at
several points in the park. His application was resisted by the
railroad owning the big hotels, which were not paying interest on their
cost, and with which the camps were competing. Mr. Wylie won his case,
however, on the ground that there was a demand for cheaper service
than the hotels furnished. Meanwhile, the railroad established a policy
of rate-making which provided that reduced summer excursion fares
should apply only to the park hotels and should be sold only in
connection with hotel tickets. This came near ruining the camp
business, but Mr. Wylie fought the company before the Interstate
Commerce Commission and won the right to have all excursion tickets
read either via the hotels or camps. Afterward the railroad sold the
hotels and Mr. Wylie sold the camps, which are now known as the lodges
Many years later, in 1917, Mr. Wylie, then an old
man, pioneered in establishing camps in Zion Park and on the North Rim
of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. The last Wylie Camp was purchased
in 1927 by the Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific
system, to be operated as part of its utilities on the North Rim.
One summer in the 'nineties, Mr. and Mrs. David A.
Curry, at that time teachers from Indiana, took a party of people
through the Yellowstone via the Wylie Camps, or "Wylie Way," as they
were known for years. When the Currys came to California a year or two
later, they started business in Yosemite Park along the lines of Mr.
Wylie's camps in Yellowstone. The Curry Camping trips eventually grew
into Camp Curry, one of the most successful undertakings in any of the
Most of the other park concessions had equally
humble beginnings. The Longmire family and John Reese pioneered in
Mount Rainier Park. Will G. Steel and Alfred L. Parkhurst first
developed service at Crater Lake. Visitors to Grand Canyon for many
years camped out overnight on the long trip overland from Flagstaff to
the Canyon at crude lodges built by W. W. Bass and Captain Hanse.
Improvements in automobiles and the building of new roads and railroads
have brought new thousands demanding accommodations. Many of the
pioneers in the business of entertaining guests at the parks have had
to sell out to great companies with sufficient capital to meet
present-day demands. Whenever difficulties have forced the retirement
of these pioneers, the National Park Service has insisted that they be
paid fair value for their properties, though failure to render service
under terms of the franchise meant forfeiture of concessions. These
pioneers labored against great natural difficulties, short seasons,
remote distances, and uncertain travel, and they deserve both sympathy
Present-day operators likewise have their problems.
In Grand Canyon Park, for instance, the operators of El Tovar Hotel
must haul water for gardening and other purposes in tank cars for one
hundred miles by rail at a cost of several dollars per thousand
gallons, and for human consumption powerful electric pumps bring water
to the South Rim from the Springs at Indian Gardens, 3,000 feet below
the rim. On the North Rim, water is lifted by pump thirty-five hundred
feet, more than half a mile, from a stream in the Canyon. This stream
first generates the electric power which operates the pumps to force
the water to the rim. Many of the hotels and lodges are great distances
from railroads. Hauling perishable foodstuffs to these establishments
was extremely difficult in the days of horse-drawn vehicles. It is
still costly, even with motor trucks, and must be taken into
consideration in the fixing of rates for service at the park hotels and
lodges. In many of the more remote camps, supplies must be packed in on
mules over high mountain trails.
In practically all of the parks the main concessions
are now in the control of one company, charged with offering the
visitor every service he needs whether it is profitable to the
concessioner or not; but this company rarely has privileges in more
than one park. Large companies can do this, compensating for temporary
losses in one branch of the service by profits in other branches. Each
year the concessioner must submit a plan for his operations during the
ensuing year, together with a schedule of rates, to the superintendent
of the park, who in turn submits it to the Secretary of the Interior at
Washington. In this way, the public is assured of the services that are
needed at fair and reasonable prices, and the citizens who invest their
capital in the expensive hotels, lodges, and stage lines, needed to
give good service, are assured that they will make a fair return on
their investment. It is the aim of the National Park Service to have a
type of service in every park to suit every taste, ranging from simple
housekeeping camps up to luxurious hotels.
It is part of the duties of the superintendent and
his rangers to see that the visitor to the park receives the type of
service he wants. Sagebrusher Jones arrives in his Super-Four, loaded
with Mrs. Jones, all the little Sagebrusher Joneses, sundry bedding,
camp stools, pots and pans, and food. He wants to see the park as
inexpensively as possible and intends to establish his own household
with his own equipment, plus whatever the park can supply.
"All right," says the ranger, "there's a fine camp
for you, right over there. It costs you nothing. If you want a tent
already put up, you can get it for a dollar a day from the housekeeping
camp headquarters. There's a store over here and a cafeteria. Help
yourself to wood from this pile. If you don't find everything all
right, let us know. Baths? You can get hot or cold showers in that
little building for twenty-five cents apiece."
The Simplex Sixes arrive in the park in their new
car. They are Sagebrushing it de luxe, as it were. They want to wear
their sweaters, knickers and rough clothes.
"Well, you'd better stay away from the hotel, then,"
says the ranger. "You girls can get into the dining room in any old
clothes, but the old gentleman there can't get in without his coat on.
I don't care if his chamois jacket did cost a hundred bucks. The dining
room isn't open to any one without his coat. You'd better go to the
camps. There's more life there, the cabins are just as comfortable as
hotel rooms, and you can wear your jacket if you want to. That's the
way I would go, if I were here for fun."
Along come the Strait-Aights, with their liveried
chauffeur. They have the big bank account and the clothes (in the big
trunk on the back) and they want all the service that money can buy.
They consult the ranger at the ranger station.
"Yes, sir, there certainly is a good hotel in this
park," he tells them, "you can have all the comforts of home, including
a bath. Meals are fine, American plan, yes, sir. That's where you want
Probably the ranger has never had a meal at the fine
hotel, but he knows the kind of people who do have them there. That is
his business. Then there are the Dudes. The New York Dudes, you know,
with the trunk full of hiking clothes, riding clothes, morning clothes,
afternoon clothes, lounging clothes, and evening clothes. They are
headed for the hotel. The Dude from Oshkosh who had been teaching
school all winter to save up a couple of hundred dollars for a vacation
in a national park is something else again. She wants good value for
her money. She goes to the camps. But everybody gets what he wants.
And where does the ranger live?
He has a bunk in a cabin, or a rangers' clubhouse,
but he doesn't use it much except when he is asleep. After the Dudes
and Sagebrushers have been directed to the camps, lodges, or hotels,
the ranger has to see that the water supply is plentiful and pure, that
the electric light plant is going, that the wild animals are protected,
that the telephone and telegraph lines are working, that the vandals
are rounded up and brought to justice, that the roads and the bridges
are kept in repair, that the forest fires are put out, that the
sanitary system is working, that the fish are planted in the lakes and
streams, that the trails are rebuilt, that nobody is lost in the
mountains anywhere, that the geysers are working, that nobody carves
his initials on the big trees, that the museum is kept open, that the
stages run on time, that the traffic moves in the right direction, and
after thatwell, there isn't much of any thing to do until
"What do rangers do all winter?" Dudes and
Sagebrushers are always asking that question. There seems to be an idea
that rangers must pine away for want of something to do. As a matter of
fact, the rangers have plenty of work all winter long. In the evenings
they are ready for rest. They are great readers, not merely of popular
magazines alone, but of the so-called quality magazines and many of them
are good writers, and contribute frequently to magazines and Sunday
newspapers. Some of them are studying, through correspondence courses.
But even with the opportunity winter brings to the rangers, each to
pursue his hobby, they are glad to see the spring, forif spring
comes, can Dudes be far behind? In the rhyme of Ranger Dan Anderson:
There's a bunch of spoutin' geysers blowin' steam for
all they're worth,
And the waterfalls are makin' quite a din,
And the fragrance of the flowers wastes upon the empty air
While waitin' for the season to begin.
The ranger's gettin' ready for the comin' of the Dudes,
For in winter they are lonesome as all sin,
And the bears are growlin' hungry 'round the empty garbage dumps
While waitin' for the season to begin.
Soon the folks will ask fool questions 'bout
everything in sight,
And the 'jammers claim the tips are extra thin,
But in spite of all the cussin' one and all we're mighty glad
To be waitin' for the season to begin.