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Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks

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Overview

A longtime backpacker, climber, and skier, Michael Lanza knows our national parks like the back of his hand. As a father, he hopes to share these special places with his two young children. But he has seen firsthand the changes wrought by the warming climate and understands what lies ahead: Alaska’s tidewater glaciers are rapidly retreating, and the abundant sea life in their shadow departs with them. Encroaching tides threaten beloved wilderness coasts like Washington’s Olympic and Florida’s Everglades. Less ...

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Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks

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Overview

A longtime backpacker, climber, and skier, Michael Lanza knows our national parks like the back of his hand. As a father, he hopes to share these special places with his two young children. But he has seen firsthand the changes wrought by the warming climate and understands what lies ahead: Alaska’s tidewater glaciers are rapidly retreating, and the abundant sea life in their shadow departs with them. Encroaching tides threaten beloved wilderness coasts like Washington’s Olympic and Florida’s Everglades. Less snowfall and hotter summers will diminish Yosemite’s world-famous waterfalls. And it is predicted that Glacier National Park’s 7,000-year-old glaciers will be gone in a decade.
 
To Lanza, it feels like the house he grew up in is being looted. Painfully aware of the ecological—and spiritual—calamity that global warming will bring to our nation’s parks, Lanza sets out to show his children these wonders before they have changed forever.
 
He takes his nine-year-old son, Nate, and seven-year-old daughter, Alex, on an ambitious journey to see as many climate-threatened wild places as he can fit into a year: backpacking in the Grand Canyon, Glacier, the North Cascades, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and along the wild Olympic coast; sea kayaking in Alaska’s Glacier Bay; hiking to Yosemite’s waterfalls; rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park; cross-country skiing in Yellowstone; and canoeing in the Everglades.
 
Through these poignant and humorous adventures, Lanza shares the beauty of each place and shows how his children connect with nature when given “unscripted” time. Ultimately, he writes, this is more their story than his, for whatever comes of our changing world, they are the ones who will live in it.

2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Outdoor Literature Honorable Mention

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A beautifully written, moving meditation.”
—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle
 
“Encounters with bears and alligators as well as tender parent-child moments . . . make [Before They’re Gone] an informative, heartwarming and, at times, heart-stopping read.”
—Colleen McBrinn, The Today Show’s travel blog

“The season’s must-read new memoir about bringing up adventure kids in the age of climate change.”
Outside Magazine’s Raising Rippers blog

"This is a terrific blend of adventure...and ecological forecasting (and forewarning) that aptly conveys the passion of a devoted outdoorsman, and serves as a wake-up call to the state of our planet."
Publishers Weekly

“Intriguing premise; decent execution—certainly of interest to environmentalists and other eco-minded readers.”
Kirkus Review 

“Michael Lanza braids a story of family, wilderness, and climate that's at once heartwarming and terrifying. I envy his kids for the incredible year they spent exploring America's finest wild places. And I mourn that they—and my own daughter—will have to endure the devastating consequences of our heating planet. Lanza makes abundantly clear that our children deserve better than the legacy we’re leaving them.”
—John Harlin, author of The Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain that Killed My Father

“I grew up in a national park, worked in twelve others and have visited well over two hundred of them. Their values, for people like me, often are taken for granted. In this wonderful book, Michael Lanza’s children learn and experience what is most important about our national parks – the necessity to leave them ‘unimpaired for future generations’ – and why.”
—Bill Wade, Chair, Executive Council, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park

“Delightful … a fresh and engaging way to tell the climate change story.”
—Laura Helmuth, senior science editor, Smithsonian

“Wilderness adventurers like Lanza are the advance scouts of global warming, bringing back firsthand testimony from pristine landscapes that powerfully corroborates what climate scientists are telling us about our changing planet. But this eyewitness report is much more than an impassioned polemic: it’s also an entertaining collection of backcountry anecdotes—surprise encounters with grizzlies, anxious moments on glaciers and wild coastlines, jaw-dropping views from remote summits—that bring climate change to life in a way that’s more palpable and persuasive than any data chart. Above all, Before They’re Gone is a fetching love letter to Mike’s wife, children, and friends and to the wild places he treasures as only a hiker, climber, and explorer can.”
—Jonathan Dorn, editor in chief, Backpacker

Publishers Weekly
Worried that climate change might soon destroy many of America's most beautiful places, Lanza, the northwest editor for Backpacker magazine, embarks with his wife and two kids, nine-year-old Nate and seven-year-old Alex, to visit "as many climate-threatened U.S. national parks as could cram into a year." Their journeys take them from Alaska's Glacier Bay to Florida's Everglades, and to many breathtaking locales in between. Blending anecdotes and ecology lessons, Lanza sheds light on his family's charming dynamic (from his daughter's sensible suggestion that they depart from bear territory to his son's preference to attack the brutes), the wonder of the natural world, and the ethical responsibility we all have to mitigate the forces that are changing our planet "faster even than scientists or computer models have anticipated." This is a terrific blend of adventure ("Seeing a bison gallop thirty miles an hour—as they can—is like seeing a grand piano suddenly sprout horns and charge you with the speed of a horse.") and ecological forecasting (and forewarning) that aptly conveys the passion of a devoted outdoorsman, and serves as a wake-up call to the state of our planet. Photos. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Freelance writer and photographer Lanza (Northwest editor, Backpacker) chronicles his one-year journey with his nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter to ten climate-threatened American national parks. As a lifelong backpacker, he has observed firsthand the changes in parks caused by global warming, and he wanted his children to see Glacier, Yellowstone, the Everglades, Yosemite, and Mount Rainier National Parks before they are permanently altered. (Scientists agree that if current climate conditions persist, Glacier National Park's glaciers may disappear entirely as soon as 2020.) Part travelog (including kayaking, canoeing, and rock climbing), part memoir, and part scientific inquiry, the work points to what lies ahead—melting glaciers, disappearing species, and inundated coastlines, unless Americans decide as a society to change their behavior. Yes, these national treasures will remain beautiful parks but they will be inalterably changed. VERDICT Lanza's sobering account is recommended for all readers who care about nature's grandeur.—Eva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston
Kirkus Reviews
One family's year-long adventure exploring the national parks of the United States. Worried about the increasing evidence that global warming is affecting America's national parks, Backpacker northwest editor Lanza crammed a year full of visits to 10 sites with his wife and two young children. Based on the premise that his children needed to see these natural wonders before the parks completely disappeared, the book is part family travelogue and part ecological observation. Scientists are not "talking about the distant future; they're talking about ecological calamities and social breakdown on a scale unprecedented in human history, which many adults alive today will witness." With this thought ever-present, Lanza writes with a bittersweet tone. He relishes his children's joy as they discover these natural wonders for the first time and remembers his own first experiences. However, there is also a darker side to the narrative, as the author contemplates the sometimes-drastic changes that have taken place in the last 30-40 years. Glaciers that no longer exist in Glacier National Park, the erosion of shorelines as sea storms grow in strength, the death of Joshua trees in California's Joshua Tree National Park--each site is under attack from events instigated primarily by humans. Although Lanza has opened the doors to this world to his children and readers alike, he offers no solutions to the current problems. His best advice: See what you can of these natural wonders before it's too late. Intriguing premise; decent execution--certainly of interest to environmentalists and other eco-minded readers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807001844
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 4/9/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 491,481
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Lanza is a veteran freelance outdoors writer and photographer. He is the northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, where his articles about the impacts of climate change on Montana’s Glacier National Park and other wild lands helped Backpacker win a National Magazine Award. He runs the website TheBigOutside.
 

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Inspiration xi

Chapter 1 Deepest Earth 1

Chapter 2 How Does the Water Go Up the Mountain? 19

Chapter 3 The Distant Rumble of White Thunder 37

Chapter 4 In the Long Shadow of "The Mountain" 55

Chapter 5 Along a Wild Coast 73

Chapter 6 The Backbone of the World 89

Chapter 7 If a Tree Falls 107

Chapter 8 Searching for Dr. Seuss 125

Chapter 9 The End of Winter 141

Chapter 10 Going Under 159

Epilogue 177

Acknowledgments 183

Sources 187

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 29, 2013

    I was expecting to read a travelogue, an accounting of an advent

    I was expecting to read a travelogue, an accounting of an adventurous family who decided to spend a year together hiking in national parks & mountains. I wanted to learn about his family, how they decided where to go, their preparations, & how their kids enjoyed (or perhaps didn't always enjoy) the time outdoors. He does include those details, but then he abruptly changes to scientific information re: global warming, how landscapes have & could change, scientific studies. I agree the author should give his opinion & provide examples from his previous hikes to support his arguments, but this information was dropped into the middle of the narrative & interrupted the flow of the story. The book could have been better edited, instead organizing the chapter(s) together that recounted information about a specific hike or location, what happened during their family travel time, the landscape. Then the scientific information could have been grouped together (either at the beginning or the end of the book).

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  • Posted April 5, 2012

    Before They're Gone is equal parts travel journal, personal mem


    Before They're Gone is equal parts travel journal, personal memoir, and environmental reality check. Author Michael Lanza's year long quest to share with his children the now most threatened parks in America is both bittersweet, and heartwarming. Liberally sprinkled with memories of past treks, scientific data, and the simple pleasures of a parent spending time with his kids. Michael's detailed, and often times humorous, writing makes you long to be relaxing in the shade of lodgepole pines in the Rocky Mountains, or watching the sun set in the Everglades, right alongside them. To me, Before They're Gone is proof that even though our environment is changing, and not for the better, we can still celebrate, enjoy, and hopefully preserve, what we have left.

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