Tell ya what, this sheltering in place stuff has really helped me get a lot more books read. Last night I finished the latest of my series of “hot off the presses” books (the next few will be older books). Today’s recommended reading is Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey through Every National Park, by Conor Knighton. When I saw this one in “new books,” it looked just right for a nature-lover like me, so I had to get it.
The book is written by Conor Knighton, who wrote it about a year-long contract he got from CBS television to visit all the US National Parks and report back. He had nothing to lose, thanks to just going through a bad breakup, so off he went, accompanied often by a Mexican-born photojournalist, Efrain Robles, whose perspective is often heard in the book as well.
Knighton was in his 30s during the journey, and I found it refreshing and a little off-putting at the same time to hear about what he saw from the perspective of a younger writer. I realized at some point that nearly all the nature books I’ve been reading have been by people at the ends of their careers who are sharing their vast knowledge of their topics. Here I got the perspective of someone looking at the National Parks with the fresh eyes of someone out to gain that knowledge. I really appreciate getting the chance to learn how Knighton and Robles experienced the parks, and to realize how different their experiences are from mine (there is so much about finding dates on Tinder in the book, which I realize I know nothing about).
There are some things about the book that you’d either like or get irritated by. One is how he presents the parks. Rather than go through his journey in the order he saw them, Knighton groups his encounters by themes. Thus, in one chapter he might talk about a park he visited in the summer and one he saw in the winter, or parks miles and miles away. I would have liked the organization better if his transitions weren’t so sudden. I also found some of the transitions somewhat awkward, like the editor told him he needed to put a transition sentence HERE and he did. On the other hand, talking about parks with volcanoes all at the same time makes sense, as do a lot of the other groupings.
Another thing I didn’t like was that for some of the parks I really didn’t get much of a sense about what they were like. Occasionally we get more of “how Conor was feeling that day” than what the park was like. But, the poor guy was going through a lot, so I don’t blame him for reflecting.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book were the encounters with Park Rangers, people in the towns near (or in) parks, and people from so many different cultures that are part of the greater US. I loved learning about the people in Alaska, New Guinea, the Virgin Islands, etc., as well as the perspective of black park employees and full-time RV-ers. I guess I’m a sucker for learning about what makes people tick, and I got a lot of new information in Leave Only Footprints.
Of course, Knighton also shares the history of the National Park movement and those who inspired it. You can’t help but enjoy a good John Muir quote or two.
If you are itching to go somewhere, anywhere, right about now, you’ll get a lot of vicarious travel out of this book, and you’re guaranteed to learn a great deal about the amazing variety of landscapes and seascapes in the USA. You’ll want to go visit a park as soon as you can…and the good news is that many other countries also are a part of the National Park movement, so you can go wherever you live!
Anyone want to share their favorite National Park experiences? I’d like to hear them. I haven’t been to many, but I was glad to hear that White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, which I have visited more than once, became a National Park in 2019!