Last Tuesday night Char Miller gave a fascinating lecture at the Marjorie Barrick Museum on the history of Death Valley National Park. His newly released book “Death Valley National Park: A History” surveys the backstory and mostly neglected history of the park as well as the region in general.
The book was begun by Hal Rothman, whose untimely passing left the work uncompleted. Char Miller, Rothman’s colleague, picked up the work and saw it to completion.
One of the highlights of the talk was the surprising fact that Death Valley is not the uninhabited wasteland it is thought to be, but is actually the home of a Native American tribe. The Timbisha people have lived there for nearly 10,000 years, yet our government, who refused to acknowledge them as a tribe, essentially forced them out when Death Valley was first declared a National Monument in 1933 (it wasn’t a national park until 1994). It wasn’t until 1982 that this small tribe was finally officially recognized by the federal government.
The Timbisha were not the only tribe to face the problem of having their homeland declared a national park, but by not being already declared a tribe, their battle was all the more difficult. As Miller put it, “If you assume wilderness is somewhere people are not, and then there are, you have a problem.”
This statement also applies to another problem faced by national parks today. If the parks are filled with tourists, then are they really still wilderness? The more people who come to see them, the more amenities are created to accommodate them. Roads are paved, restrooms are built, trails need to be maintained, and trash must be dealt with.
You can find “Death Valley National Park: A History” on Amazon.com.
If you are interested in visiting Death Valley, check out its official webpage for more info.
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