This Is a Book for People Who Love the National Parks


By Matt Garczynski

Illustrated by Brainstorm

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Smart, short, and irresistibly illustrated, This Is a Book for People Who Love National Parks is a park-by-park celebration of the American outdoors.

For devoted park-goers and casual campers alike, this charming guide is nothing short of a celebration of America’s natural wonders. An introduction to the storied history of the Parks Service is paired with engaging profiles of each of the sixty-one National Parks, from Acadia to Zion and everything in between. Quirky facts and key dates are woven throughout, while refreshingly modern illustrations capture the iconic features of each majestic setting. Deeply researched but not too serious, This Is a Book for People Who Love National Parks is an essential addition to every park lover’s field library.


At the confluence of land and sea, evergreen and deciduous, residential and “wild” lies Acadia National Park in coastal Maine, where visitors might wade through ankle-deep tide pools, go hiking in high glaciated peaks, or kick back in the comforts of a nearby resort town.

The park’s densely wooded forests support a diverse array of evergreen spruces and firs, as well as colorful beeches, aspens, and sugar maples. Acadia’s vegetative medley was ensured by the Fire of 1947, which laid waste many of the region’s old-growth evergreens. This gave sun-loving species a chance to thrive, providing food for wildlife and even enhancing the scenery. The evergreens later returned, less uniformly dominant than before. The fire also reshaped the surrounding towns, driving the wealthy seasonal crowd out while permanent residents rebuilt their homes. Today, a row of motels stands in place of grand summer cottages, welcoming a wide range of visitors to the area.

Towering above Mount Desert Island is Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S.’s North Atlantic Seaboard. Early risers flock to its pink granite peak, to be the first in the country to see the sunrise.

Encompassing the islands of Tutuila, Ta’ū, and Ofu, the National Park of American Samoa preserves the tropical plant life, marine ecologies, and native culture of the eastern Samoan islands. Working your way up the islands’ volcanic peaks, you will notice gradual shifts between five rain forest communities: lowland, montane, coast, ridge, and cloud. Take in panoramic views of the majestic cliff-lined coasts from high up in the cloud forest of Lata Mountain.

The park sits on traditional communal land, which the National Park Service comanages with eight participating villages. Subsistence farming is permitted in the park, allowing for the perpetuation of fa’asamoa, the Samoan way of life. The word Samoa means “sacred center of the universe,” pointing to the deep connection its people have to the land. While western Samoa achieved independence in 1962, the eastern islands remain under annexation by the United States. American Samoa is the only inhabited U.S. territory south of the equator.

The erosive forces of nature have sculpted this high-desert landscape into an orange-pink jumble of rock formations. Here you’ll find the largest concentration of sandstone arches in the world, as well as pinnacles, spires, pedestals, and balanced rocks. Fins, the natural precursors to arches, jut up like the bony plates of the dinosaurs that once called this Utah desert home.

Devils Garden contains the most diverse array of rock formations in the park, with trails leading to various landmarks. The towering Landscape Arch, with an opening of 306 feet, is considered the longest natural stone span in North America. Farther south lies the rough-hewn terrain of the Fiery Furnace, a mess of vertical red slabs standing like sentinels in the rising sun. At their base, a labyrinth of narrow passages offers the perfect hike for thrill-seeking claustrophiles.

A strong wind howls through the canyon. The fossil of an ancient mammal emerges from the rainbow-striped stone. This is Badlands, named maco sika (maco = “land,” sika = “bad”) by the Lakota for its unforgiving weather and terrain. Reminders of a seafloor, lush tropical landscape, and open woodland are recorded in the sandstone. For over ten thousand years, the Badlands served as native hunting grounds. But that history came to a tragic close in the late nineteenth century, when homesteaders and U.S. troops forcibly drove tribes from the region. The South Unit of the park contains the site of one of the last known Ghost Dances, conducted as spiritual resistance to outside rule. Less than forty miles south of the park lies the historic site of the Wounded Knee massacre.

Beyond the buttes and canyons, the park contains the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the National Park Service. These deeply rooted grasses coevolved with the once-massive herds of bison and nourish rich microbial ecosystems in the soil. Scientists have suggested that cultivating such grasslands could be an important tool in drawing excess carbon from the atmosphere and stemming the tide of climate change. In October 2019, the NPS reopened 22,000 acres of Badlands to grazing bison. “By ensuring that the largest of creatures are thriving,” the National Park Foundation explained, “the park can more safely guarantee the health of the entire ecosystem.”

The stark shadows of the yucca sweep across the rippling sand, as the blazing sun cuts an arc across the wide West Texas sky. This is the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in North America, which plays host to a sweeping oasis of beauty known as Big Bend National Park. Named for the broad meandering path carved by the Rio Grande river, the park is a refuge for more than 1,500 species of wildlife, including plants, insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals.

The park’s climate is characterized by extremes—dry summer heat topping 100°F on the desert floor as well as the occasional subfreezing winter chills. Within the park lies the entire Chisos mountain range, where hikers will find a forest ecology that seems a world away from the desert below.

Just off the shores of Miami, the Florida Keys begin their 125-mile arc west toward the Gulf of Mexico. This archipelago is home to Biscayne, one of the more unique parks in the U.S. To get to Biscayne National Park, you’ll have to be willing to get a little wet—95 percent of the park is underwater. Dive down below the turquoise waves and observe colorful coral reefs teeming with life. Or paddle your way through a watery maze of mangrove forests on a sliver of lush green barrier islands.

As with many coastal parks, the threat of rising sea levels looms over the future of Biscayne. The ridge of reefs and mangroves serves as a hydraulic barrier keeping seawater from flooding the Everglades to the west. With ocean levels projected to rise thirty inches by 2100 that balance could be severely offset. The effort to preserve the national parks, especially those in coastal areas, is an effort to preserve the whole planet.

H. P. Lovecraft himself would have trembled at the sight of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a steep, narrow gash in the Colorado wilderness. The canyon’s 2,000-foot walls descend in cliffs and crags toward the shadowy Gunnison River below. Sculpting these walls took two million years of slow grinding work by the river and its tributaries, which run in narrow bands at their base. The name “Black Canyon of the Gunnison” (cue dramatic thunderclap) derives from its eerie black-stained walls, parts of which receive less than an hour’s sunlight in a single day. Easy trails for visitors run on either side of the canyon’s rim, while more strenuous hikes down waterworn ravines—unmarked and unmaintained—wind down to the very bottom.


On Sale
May 5, 2020
Page Count
144 pages
Running Press

Matt Garczynski

About the Author

Matt Garczynski is an editor and freelance humorist based in New York. He has written and edited for the Onion, College Humor, and Abbeville Press, among others.

Brainstorm is a design studio founded by married artists Briana Feola and Jason Snyder. Their bright and brainy prints and projects are inspired by science, nature, and the outdoors. Brainstorm’s art and designs have been featured by Urban Outfitters, L.L. Bean, Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Kids (formerly Land of Nod), Patagonia, Lollapalooza/C3 Presents, Uncommon Goods, NH Magazine, and The Grommet, among others.

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