Magazine article Sunset

Planes, Trains-But No Automobiles

Magazine article Sunset

Planes, Trains-But No Automobiles

Article excerpt

National parks are planning to do away with cars, but why wait? Here's how to plan a vacation without the auto today

The National Park Service is coming to see the automobile as public enemy number one, and with good reason. Consider the facts:

On a typical summer day in Zion National Park, five or six cars compete for each available parking space.

At the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, so many cars clog the twolane entry road in the summertime that it can take up to 45 minutes to get to a parking space.

Since 1993, Yosemite has actually had to shut its doors periodically when weekend crowds have reached unmanageable proportions.

The response? Under a new policy announced by federal officials last year, cars could be banned or limited at a number of national parks in the near future.

Many parks, including those already mentioned, aren't waiting for both shoes to drop. By Memorial Day 2000, Zion National Park planners hope a new shuttle system will take visitors from the gateway town of Springdale, Utah, into the park's main canyon in quiet, propane-powered buses. "There's going to be a fundamental change in the way visitors see, enjoy, and understand this park," says superintendent Donald Falvey.

Likewise, Grand Canyon National Park is constructing a mass transit system to take visitors from the neighboring town of Tusayan, Arizona, into a new visitor center/transportation hub in the park, where they will have the option of using alternative-fuel shuttles to explore the park or renting bicycles and touring a new greenway. Park officials hope to have the hub in place and the new shuttle buses running by 2002, with the greenway to be developed in phases over the next few years.

Yosemite National Park officials, though delayed by a Gordian knot of planning and approval processes, hope to have a transit system in place that would bus day trippers in from large metropolitan areas to relieve park congestion by 2000. "When it does get going, it will give visitors the chance to experience Yosemite Valley in its pristine form," says Janet Cobb, president of Yosemite Restoration Trust. "You'll actually have a better experience-without noise, pollution, and stress-while protecting the resource."

Even today there are parks in the West-such as the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park-that have made it easier to travel without an auto. To get an idea of just how easy it is, we sent senior editor Dale Conour and his family and senior staff writer Lora J. Finnegan and her friends vacationing at the two parks last summer.

When the Conours arrived at the Grand Canyon Railway station, Dale and his wife, Norma, had their boys close their eyes and then guided them to the South Rim viewing rail before letting them get their first look at the canyon.

"That experience was actually a bit like depending on public transportation," says Conour. "You're led almost blindly along, trusting to be taken to the right place, and you give up a great deal of control. But when everything works, you can relax, enjoy the moments, and take in the experience without worrying about the mechanics of getting from place to place." Both Conour's and Finnegan's reports follow, as does our list of parks around the West that offer not only practical but also fun and entertaining alternatives to driving your car. As Paul Theroux wrote in The Old Patagonian Express, "The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing."

Western parks in transit

We list those national parks that you can both reach and get around in using public transportation. Get more details by checking each park's Web site, starting at www. …

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