We continue our journey with the idealistic members of the Park-to-Park tour as they leave the west side of Glacier National Park. After taking the train through the remainder of Glacier’s tour, they picked up their automobiles on September 14, 1920 to continue on to the next park, crossing into Idaho.
Even though the members of the tour were wined and dined by officials at most every stop they made, it was still a necessity to bring adequate supplies, including food, with them during the long treks in between. Items such as canned meat, beans, crackers, canned fruit, and milk chocolate provided sustenance on the road, and would help ensure their survival should the caravan break down.
But things were about to get tough.
It was about this time that their fearless leader, Anton Westgard, developed complications from late-stage syphilis. As they crossed into Washington State and arrived in Spokane, at the insistence of his doctor, he left the party on a train bound for San Francisco for immediate treatment. The hard knocks of constant auto travel over the last 18 years took its toll on him, and every jolt of his automobile racked his weakening body. He had to leave the tour.
With the tour not even halfway completed, the group were on their own. Now they had a tough decision to make. Should they go back the way they came and risk the approaching winter weather over the Rocky Mountains? Or abandon the marked route altogether and make a beeline back to Denver? The other option, of course, was to finish the work Westgard had begun, and soldier on for the remaining 3,000 miles to complete the tour, thus completing the adventure of their lives.
Without the immeasurable expertise of Westgard (who had already staked out and driven the entire loop) the party had a rough idea of which roads to take, but they were unsure of what they would encounter on those roads.
Given the odds, the decision was clear – they would continue on, using Westgard’s instructions and his detailed notes on the road conditions that lie ahead of them. On to Mount Rainier they went!
Gus Holmes, Chairman of the National Park-to-Park Association, was their new leader.
As the tour soldiered west through the towns of Cle Elum, Seattle and Tacoma, the weather turned gloomy – it was classic Pacific Northwest weather, but everyone along the way gave them a hearty welcome. On September 25, Rainier loomed large before them – a gigantic solitary mountain with glaciers flanking the sides.
The first successful climb of Mount Rainier happened in 1870, and became a national park in 1899. By 1920, nearly 30 miles of road were constructed in and around Mountain Rainier National Park. President Taft toured the park in 1911 and was in one of the first cars to drive the switchback roads up the mountain and make it all the way to Paradise Valley.
When the Park-to-Park group arrived, they drove the same roads, and spent two days in Paradise Valley, soaking up the grandeur of the park.
Continuing on, the traveled west, stopping at Camp Lewis, a military outpost. Following the Pacific highway south, they were forced to stop near the Oregon border. Up until now the tour had kept to its rigorous schedule. But because one of the cars became stuck on a muddy detour near the town of Kelso, the tour ground to a halt on September 29.
It was to be the only delay on their entire journey. Eventually, a big white truck came to pull the car out of the muck, and the tour carried on. All along the way, the group continued to be greeted with great fanfare in every town they stopped at, including Portland, Oregon.
Crater Lake National Park
Being wined and dined all along the way, fried chicken seemed to be the standard main course of every meal. But when they arrived at Crater Lake Lodge in Crater Lake National Park, they got a special treat; a meal with duck and venison – and not a chicken in sight. Located at the summit of Mount Mazama, they were given exclusive access to the lodge and the surrounding Rim Road, which circumvents the stunning caldera volcano which created America’s deepest lake.
At 33 miles long, Rim Road hugs the edge of Crater Lake, which dips down steeply, giving the road a unique role in one’s experience with the surrounding landscape. Solely because of this, the engineers who built Rim Road had to get things right. The idea was to enable visitors to enjoy the scenery of the lake, and not worry about muddy conditions, potholes, and the like.
In fact, this was largely true for most all roads that traversed the national parks up until the 1920’s. Landscape engineers were tasked with building roads that allowed the utmost opportunity to the glorious views of the parks, and many winding roads were built. As a result, the vast majority of park visitors never strayed far from their cars when touring the parks, which also aided in the conservation of the surrounding interior and wilderness.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Established in 1914, Lassen includes hot springs, pristine lakes, and cinder cones. Truly spectacular scenery. Lassen Peak’s last eruption was May 30, 1914, and was the first ever modern recording of an eruption. A particularly large blast happened the following year, and continued to spew steam and explosions for the next two years.
At only 106,000 acres, Lassen is one of the smallest national parks, and yet holds examples of each of the four types of volcanoes found throughout the world. Its biodiversity is stunning. To get there safely, the tour hurried on through Medford, Ashland and the Siskiyou Mountain to avoid bad weather.
On October 7, they approached Lassen, but found they could not enter the park. The culprit was something the group had been dealing with all throughout the tour to some degree.
No roads had yet been set up in the park. They just simply weren’t there. Because of this, they were forced to skip Lassen and move on, passing through Red Bluff, Chico, and Marysville. They took the ferry toward Oakland to San Francisco, and stopped in Stockton over snowy roads.
Their next stop: Steven Mather’s favorite park, which we’ll take up in Part 3 of our Park-to-Park series!
Meet Rob Decker, Creator of National Park Posters
Photographer and graphic artist Rob Decker studied photography with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1979 when he was just 19. It was an experience solidified his love of photography and our National Parks. Now he is on a journey to photograph and create iconic WPA-style posters of all our major national parks as we celebrate the next 100 years of the National Park Service.
"I feel it’s important to protect America’s special places, and to connect people with nature. And it’s up to all of us to pitch in. Perhaps more importantly, we need to inspire the next generation of park stewards. I’m trying to make a difference by giving back to the amazing organizations that support our National Parks. I donate 10% of annual profits, so when you buy one of these original works, you're helping these trusts, conservancies and associations, too."
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