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Episode Four: 1920–1933Going Home

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Article on Stephen Mather's proposed park-to-park highway, <i>Oregon Sunday Journal,</i> November 19, 1916 Add to Scrapbook

Article on Stephen Mather's proposed park-to-park highway, Oregon Sunday Journal, November 19, 1916

Warren G. Harding, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, auto camping tour, 1921 Add to Scrapbook

Warren G. Harding, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, auto camping tour, 1921

Mather Embraces the Automobile (continued)

Mather had no such fears. By 1918, tourists arriving in Yosemite by automobile outnumbered those coming by train, seven to one. By the end of 1920, for the first time in history, the number of people visiting the parks exceeded a million a year. The automobile, Mather enthused, "has been the open sesame."

Mather joined forces with automobile clubs, good-roads associations, local governments, and car manufacturers to lobby for a national park-to-park highway linking all the western parks. He believed this scenic highway would pour "tourist gold" into the communities along its route.

In the 1920s, the "auto camping" craze swept the country, and even President Harding tried out the fad when he joined Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone on one of the well-publicized trips they took each year. Mather took advantage of the trend, urging states to build a network of parks under the slogan, "A State Park Every Hundred Miles." Among the people who would be affected by the introduction of the automobile to the parks were Margaret and Edward Gehrke, park enthusiasts who had visited their first national park by train. Now that they had a car, they would make full use of Mather's scenic highways. (See sidebar)

In 1925, Mather staged one of his classic publicity stunts, telling his park superintendents to form car caravans and travel together to Mesa Verde on the park-to-park highway, generating as much news about it as possible along the way. That year, visitation at national parks topped 2 million for the first time.

The Ranger System

Superintendent Jesse Nusbaum with Native Americans, Mesa Verde National Park, 1927 Add to Scrapbook

Superintendent Jesse Nusbaum with Native Americans, Mesa Verde National Park, 1927

Another of Mather's critical tasks was to hire competent people to run the parks. In the past, political patronage had determined who got jobs, with some poor results. A well-connected employee at Glacier National Park was so inept that his patrols were restricted to following the railroad tracks to keep him from getting lost. The son-in-law of a Mesa Verde superintendent was caught looting precious artifacts from the cliff dwellings.

To remedy the situation, Mather began hand-picking new superintendents. He put Jesse Nusbaum, a professional archaeologist, in charge of Mesa Verde. John White, an adventurer and war veteran who had taken a low-paying job just to be at the Grand Canyon, was made superintendent of Sequoia National Park. At Mount McKinley in Alaska, Mather chose Harry Karstens, who had led the first successful climb to the top of the continent's highest peak in 1913. For the most prestigious post of all, Mather chose his own trusted lieutenant, making Horace Albright superintendent of Yellowstone.

Horace Albright and bears, Yellowstone National Park, 1922 Add to Scrapbook

Horace Albright and bears, Yellowstone National Park, 1922

Below the superintendents, Mather wanted a cadre of dedicated and professional park rangers. They should be "men between the ages of 21 and 40," Albright specified, "of good character, sound physique, and tactful in handling people." They also had to be able to ride horses, build trails, fight forest fires, handle firearms, have survival experience in extreme weather conditions, and be willing to work long hours with no overtime pay. From a salary of $1,000 a year, they were expected to buy their own food and bedding – and to pay $45 for a specially designed uniform topped by a distinctive flat-brimmed hat.

Continued on page 3

A proud tourist points at her National Parks windshield stickers, 1922; David Brower in Glen Canyon, 1966; Dayton Duncan's son, Will, standing at edge of canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park, 1998

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