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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 edition)

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 secretary.

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 need arises.

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, and—wonder of wonders—bathtubs 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 luxurious equipment.

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 of Yellowstone.

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 parks.

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 and praise.

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 to go."

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 that—well, there isn't much of any thing to do until tomorrow.

"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, for—if 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.



Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap9a.htm — 06-Sep-2004