My one-star reviews of national parks

This blog has grown dormant during my treatment for lymphoma. Mimi and I have traveled little. Even when I felt like traveling, chemotherapy left me vulnerable to infections and getting on a plane wasn’t a good idea. But I got an idea for a travel post when I read Tim Murphy’s I Can’t Stop Reading One-Star Yelp Reviews of National Parks in Mother Jones.

They are hilarious and I won’t try to do them justice here. Really crabby people missed out on the grandeur of our national parks and didn’t have the sense to keep their whining to themselves. I have never not enjoyed a national park. I thank Teddy Roosevelt profoundly for the foresight to protect these national treasures and consider myself privileged every time I visit.

But I decided I should try to do some one-star reviews of national parks and a few other sites I have visited, with links in a few places to my less-grumpy actual posts on some parks (most of my National Park travels predate this blog). I had some family help on this:


The guides here don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Our guide warned us that most visitors don’t get clear views of Denali (also called Mt. McKinley) because it’s often covered by clouds. That stupid bimbo! It was a beautiful day and we got several spectacular views. Then she warned us that we’d probably only see two or three of the large types of wildlife in the park. But we saw all five: wolves, grizzly bears, caribou, moose and Dall sheep. They should get guides who know what they’re talking about.

Glacier Bay

They told us we’d get to see glaciers “calve,” but that’s total BS. This doesn’t involve cattle at all. “Calving” sounds cute, but it’s really loud. You just watch huge chunks of the glacier thunderously break apart and fall into the bay as new icebergs. Why do they even call that “calving”?


This park is just too damn dark. You can barely get a glimpse of the sun. They should cut down some of the trees and let a little light in.

Zion Canyon

WTF? You go visit a canyon and you expect to look down into it. This one is all backwards. You’re down in the canyon, looking up at the spectacular scenery. C’mon, Zion, learn what a canyon is.

Bryce Canyon

This place really needs something like a ski lift so you can ride down into the canyon and look up at the hoodoos.


Why are these arches scattered all across the park? It would take a lot less time to see them if they had thought of locating them closer together.


Why do the canyons have to be so big? It would take days to visit all the canyons in this park. And you could lose an arm or something hiking them by yourself.

Goblin Valley State Park

Really not all that scary.

Grand Canyon

We visited in February and it was freezing! C’mon, this is Arizona. Is it too much to expect some warm weather to enjoy the canyon?


We tried to take our dog for a walk, and a bear walked out onto the path ahead of us. Rangers should restrict the bears to certain areas for safe viewing.

National Mall

Pretty cool, but no Gap.


We went to hear an Abe Lincoln impersonator do the Gettysburg Address. He was good, but the speech was way too short.

Great Falls

This place is so noisy! My wife and I could barely hear each other talk over all the racket of the falls.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

They won’t even let you ride the horses.

Carlsbad Caverns

They didn’t even have the bat show when we were there. If something is that cool, you need to figure out how to offer it year-round. They say they are migratory, but really, where do they go that is cooler than the caverns. I think they should find a way to keep them there permanently.

Mammoth Cave

I was expecting some mammoth bones, but this place didn’t live up to expectations at all. Besides, it’s just too damned big.

Teddy Roosevelt

Our horseback ride through the park took about three hours. They should put in a train or something so you can see all the wildlife much faster.


Wall Drug has cooler stuff to buy than the park. Unless you care about actual badlands you can just skip the park and buy stuff at Wall Drug.

Wind Cave

Totally overblown. It wasn’t that windy.


They wouldn’t let us feed the alligators, even though they looked hungry.


Same thing as Everglades. Everywhere you look, they had signs “Don’t feed the bears.” Think how much the federal government could save of our hard-earned tax dollars if they’d just let visitors to parks feed the animals.



Antietam: Monuments should depict the killing fields

The Dunker Church at Antietam National Battlefield

Dan Buttry

Our visits to historic sites this week made me think of family. At the Eisenhower farm, I thought of Dad, like Ike a military man and a painter. At the Gettysburg battlefield, I recalled an earlier visit with Mom. At the Antietam battlefield, I thought of my pacifist brother, Dan.

In my last post, I recounted the mixed feelings I felt in Gettysburg, recoiling at the madness of war while admiring the valor of those who fought. But somewhere in a weekend of several hundred monuments at our nation’s two bloodiest battlefields, the madness won out over the valor.

I think it was at the Dunker Church. A pacifist Baptist Church in the middle of a battlefield made me think of my pacifist Baptist brother.

I come from a family of ministers. Dad was an Air Force chaplain, then an American Baptist pastor. After Dad died in 1978, Mom went to seminary and became an American Baptist minister herself. My younger brother, Don, is a lay minister. He didn’t attend seminary but was ordained by his Southern Baptist congregation after several years as a youth leader. It was my older brother, Dan, whom I thought of as we walked around the Dunker Church, reading the casualty toll on the various unit monuments.

We grew up living on and around Air Force bases. Though Dad was peaceful, we grew up with a strong military orientation. For a stretch in the 1960s, Dan’s favorite record was Barry Sadler‘s “Ballads of the Green Berets.” But as Dan grew up and prayed and studied Scripture, he felt called to be a peacemaker. He felt war and violence were immoral. Dan told our father, who had served a career in the military, that he couldn’t join the military, even in a non-violent role such as a chaplain or medic.

Dad told Dan that he needed to follow the call of his conscience, even if he heard a different call than Dad did. So the son of an Air Force lieutenant colonel became a peace missionary. He graduated from seminary in time to make it to Dad’s death bed in 1978.

Bloody Lane.

Dan has followed the call of his conscience around the world, teaching conflict resolution and peacemaking in Burma, Nagaland, Georgia and more countries than I can count. He’s written books about peacemaking and peacemakers.

I thought of Dan again and again as we drove and walked the fields and woods of the bloodiest day in American history (yes, more died at Antietam than on 9/11; Gettysburg was deadlier than Antietam, but its carnage stretched over three days). I wished our nation had more peacemakers and fewer people eager to rush into wars, both in our lifetimes and back when our nation fought this deadly war.

I thought of Dan as my companion and I walked past monument after monument — statues and plaques memorializing the brave men who fell in the cornfield and the sunken road known ever since as Bloody Lane. I wondered if there’s a way to honor the courage of the troops who fight wars without glorifying war itself, as the statues and battle scenes on some monuments do. Do we similarly honor the courage of peacemakers?

The photos of bodies at Antietam are a stark contrast to the erect soldiers on the Antietam monuments. I think war memorials should honor the dead by reminding the living how war turns peaceful fields like those surrounding Antietam Creek into killing grounds too horrific to imagine.

I’d like to see a memorial with bodies stacked in a ditch, like the Matthew Brady photographs from Antietam:

Dan Buttry’s books about peacekeepers and peacemaking:

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Christian Peacemaking: From Heritage to Hope

Peace Ministry: A Handbook for Local Churches

Coming soon: Peace Warrior: A Memoir from the Front

Livetweeting a journalists’ tour of the Gettysburg battlefield

Marc Charisse, Civil War buff and editor of The Evening Sun in Hanover, Pa., and I livetweeted a Gettysburg battlefield tour on June 2.

I blogged my reflections on the battlefield visit (and earlier tours I’ve taken). My companion also blogged about our day in Gettysburg. I also blogged a text of my keynote speech to the journalists that evening. Here are Marc’s and my observations as we toured the battlefield:


Gettysburg: We can’t forget what they did here

Gettysburg Battlefield: Little Round Top

This is why Little Round Top was important: You can see the whole Gettysburg battlefield from there.

I wonder how many different tours of the Gettysburg National Battlefield you can take before it starts getting old.

I took a bus tour with the Pennsylvania Press Conference Saturday, my fifth tour, and heard a perspective I hadn’t heard before. Richard Goedkoop, our guide, covered lots of battlefield history I had heard before. But he provided a different twist, tailored to the group of journalists he was leading.

More on Goedkoop’s tour shortly. But first, I’ll review the other ways I’ve toured the battlefield.

First, about a decade ago, I met my oldest son, Mike, at the historic battlefield. I had an extra day on a business trip to Philadelphia, and Mike was living in Washington. Like the Union and Confederate armies (only moving much faster), we converged on Gettysburg. We paid for a bus tour, led by one of the many licensed battlefield guides (whose name I’ve long forgotten). Continue reading

A visit to the Eisenhower farm — and a lesson in leadership

General Dwight D. Eisenhower meeting with Generals Patton, Bradley, and Hodges in Germany, March 1945. Photo from

I have a suggestion for today’s politicians: Tour the retirement home of Dwight D. Eisenhower in Gettysburg, Pa. And ask for Park Ranger John Joyce to be your tour guide.

Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo from

Ike’s leadership would be an example to leaders of both parties. In a time of extremism and conflict (remember McCarthyism?), he was a calming, unifying influence. He was a Republican who didn’t diminish or shrink from using government properly: to build our national infrastructure (the Interstate highway system) and to uphold civil rights. He knew how to end a war. He placed country above party. He thought big, but not about himself.

On a rainy afternoon, Joyce provided insights into Ike’s leadership style to a tour group of Pennsylvania editors visiting the Eisenhower National Historic Site outside Gettysburg. His guiding leadership principles, according to Joyce, author of the Ike Blog: Continue reading