National park musings

I just watched a National Geographic documentary about Yosemite (Netflix, Nat Geo channel — link not working for me). This was the first Nat Geo documentary I’d seen in a very very long time. I’d forgotten how incredible these documentaries are, and how important they were in getting me interested in nature. Although nature was all around me when I was growing up in India, being in the urban jungle that is Hyderabad meant that I didn’t really have much exposure to pristine, impressive nature. I got my fix for that from the Jeff Corwin Experience, watching the quirky host entering the forests of Borneo, deserts of Arizona, and rivers of South America. Anyway, the Jeff Corwin Experience deserves its own post, which I will write in due time.

Some thoughts about that Yosemite documentary:

Rock climbers are cray. I’d never think of climbing El Capitan, which is essentially a rock wall that extends almost a whole kilometer into the sky, but apparently its done pretty often. Here’s a video taken by a climber from the top of the “Texas Flake,” which is a large chunk of granite slowly being separated from the body of El Capitan:

The National Geographic documentary I’ve linked to above has footage of something called the “King Swing,” in which climbers have to run across the face of the wall to get from one “track” to another. It’s at around minute 29 — I’ll try to get a video of that up.

I hadn’t had enough fun by just watching the documentary, so I decided to play a little bit more with Google trends. Here’s some cool, somewhat inexplicable trends:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.22.43 PM The line in yellow shows hits for the Grand Canyon. The peak in late June 2013 lines up with Nik Wallenda tightrope-walking across the canyon (how do people pull this stuff off?!). For the sake of accuracy — the walk wasn’t over the canyon in the Grand Canyon National Park, because the park service wouldn’t’ allow it. The rope was actually in Navajo nation’s land (source).

The blue shows searches for Yellowstone. I had assumed that Yellowstone would be more popular than Yosemite, and with some exceptional time points, this seems to be true.

Red shows Yosemite. The peak in August 2013 lines up with the fires that ran across the park. I assume that the last peak in October 2013 is due to people interested in the status of the park during the big bad shutdown. But why don’t we see as dramatic a peak in either of the other lines? A google news search for Yosemite doesn’t suggest that it has been in the national press any more than the other parks. Is Yosemite just that emblematic to the US, is it the “go-to” national park?

Here’s a chart showing number of visitors to the top 10 US National Parks (Source: the National Parks Conservation Association, since the National Park Service website is still down — oh, the shutdown woes!):

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 9.30.47 AM Ok, so Yosemite gets <40% of the visitors that the Great Smokeys get. Again, the google search trends don’t reflect these numbers:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 9.32.04 AM

And a graph of just “Great Smoky,” so that the scale isn’t dominated by the other things:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 10.44.02 AM

As before, yellow, blue and red show GC, Yellowstone and Yosemite; “Great Smoky” is in green. I really don’t have any idea of what is going on here. How come GS has ~3x the visitors of yellowstone, but 1/10th the relevance on google searches? Could it be that a lot of the visitors to the Smokys are locals who don’t ever feel the need to look it up on the internet before planning a trip? There’s a definite peak in searches for “Great Smoky” in the past week, but as shown above, the absolute numbers pale in comparison to the other parks.

There must be something I am missing when I expect the parks with the highest visitors (by a large margin, at that) to be the most searched park. Any ideas welcome.

And finally, because big trees are indeed rock and roll, here’s some solid PBS coverage of the Giant Sequoia groves in Yosemite and how the recent Rim Fire and future fires might impact them (link):

I’ll write  about fire ecology some time soon (AKA once I learn more about it!).

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