Our annual fall essay contest invites nonfiction submissions of up to 1,500 words in the form of autobiographical essay, reportage, profile, memoir, or narrative nonfiction. We seek essays that express a moment of significance — personal transformation, awakening, adventure, exploration, reward, accomplishment, revelation — that is inspired by or set within a park space or public land. Essays need not be about a U.S. national park—national forests, municipal and state parks, BLM lands, beaches, lakeshores, campgrounds, designated woodlands—and more—are great subjects. Also note that the writer does not need to be the subject of the essay. First, second and third place entries will be published on Parks and Points, as will the names of finalists. All entries are considered for publication.
Contests, Amy Beth Wright
The greatest, best, and most beautiful place I've ever car camped was on top of a cliff in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Here's what you need to know.
Spotlights, Robbie DeGraff
In many parts of the country, the first signs of fall come with cooler temperatures and changing leaves. But for some areas, fall also brings the rut—a time when elk bulls fight to keep their bloodline alive.
Essays, Courtney Johnson
For our first installment focusing on National Park Service units in Hawaii, we’ll be exploring the islands of O’ahu, Maui, and Moloka’i.
Spotlights, Parks and Points
With the arrival of National Park #60, Gateway Arch National Park, we’re taking a look at the contenders for #61! Here’s a brief rundown on how they stack up. We’re giving you a bit of each park's story, and a score as to their chances, on a scale of John Muir beards!
News, Derek Wright
Before its association with cutting edge technological innovation, the Santa Clara Valley was known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” due to its abundance of wheat and produce, particularly pears, apricots, French plums (prunes), tomatoes, flowers, and grapes. The region is both agriculturally robust and scenic, home to a wealth of state parks that protect ancient old growth redwoods, and municipal parks with steep, rocky chaparral and riparian corridors. San Jose is an hour from Pinnacles National Park and Monterey, and 45 minutes from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge, where millions of migrating birds pass through annually along the Pacific Flyway, is one half hour north. East San Jose overlooks the foothills of the Diablo Range and is home to the first municipal park in the state of California, Alum Rock Park. At Big Basin State Park, find the largest continuous stand of ancient coastal redwoods south of San Francisco.
Spotlights, Amy Beth Wright
The International Dark-Sky Association was created in 1988 to help minimize light pollution and to protect the night skies. There are 103 Dark-Sky sites worldwide, including Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Staunton River State Park in Virginia, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas. The two entities often work alongside each other to preserve what natural night sky still exists. For example, Bob Meadows, a physical scientist and night skies specialist in the NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division took his expertise and equipment to Goblin Valley State Park to help with the park's Dark-Sky designation—at Goblin Valley, one is under one of the darkest skies in the world.
Tips and Tricks, Courtney Johnson
Travel with Lauren Smith as she finds a sense of home on the road, much like the migrating birds she studies. "The month after I moved to Montana I went to an environmental conference in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. There, I heard a Blackfeet elder say this: “We are bound by breath to honor and take care of this place.” The elder was speaking about conservation, and how it is important to care for all parts of an ecosystem—the watershed, the soil, the plants, the animals. To care, the elder said, you need to settle in a place and let it settle in you. Once this happens, you are bound by breath to honor and care for that place."
Essays, Lauren Smith
Though many of the parks units have little to no entry fee, roughly one-third do charge an entry fee. Some can be a bit hefty; Grand Canyon and Yosemite run $35 per car. The best deal going is the America the Beautiful Pass, as for $80 you purchase one year of unlimited entry into national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tips and Tricks, Derek Wright
We are delighted to host our second annual poetry series, in honor of National Poetry Month. Poetry presents an extraordinary lens through which to explore public lands, the outdoors, and our instincts for adventure and self-reflection.
Contests, Writing, Parks and Points
When you approach the tallest sand dunes in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park, you almost feel like you are on the set of Star Wars. From a distance, they appear much smaller than they are—the tallest point on the dunes is approximately 13,604 feet (4,146m) above sea level. When we got our closeup look from the visitor center in July, my four-year-old daughter Emma's mouth dropped open.
Spotlights, Courtney Johnson
Channel Islands National Park, comprised of five islands along the southern California coast, is only accessible by boat (a sixty-minute journey from the Ventura marina) or by helicopter. In 2015, the park logged 324,816 recreation visits, compared with more than four million visits each to parks like Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite National Parks. Like the Galapagos Islands, the seclusion and protection in the Channel Islands allows for species that exist in no other part of the world to thrive and become interdependent. Magnificent kelp forests shelter more than 1,000 species of animals and plants. Rocky reefs are prolific for eelgrass beds, and shelter small invertebrates, fish, and sharks. The park provides nesting and breeding grounds for 99% of California’s shorebirds and seabirds, and half of the world's population of ashy storm petrels and western gulls.
Spotlights, Parks & Points