The article "In Pursuit of Wildness: Celebrating 100 Years of the National Park Service" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 07/14/2016.
The wind, the open road, and my motorcycle: this is my mantra.
Motorcycles have been a part of my of life since I was 16. My first bike was an 80cc Yamaha, and for a high school kid it was magic. I am 67 years old and still riding motorcycles. Today I ride a Yamaha Road Star. This was my gift to myself when I retired from the National Park Service after 35 ½ years.
The vision of preserving and protecting the national parks for future generations is a worldwide responsibility. I learned this after working two and a half years for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana, Africa. My first job with the National Park Service, however, was as a temporary laborer, working on a garbage truck at Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park. My job, according to old Earl, was simple. “You ride on the back of the garbage truck. When it stops, you pick up and empty the trash can into the truck and try not to fall off.”
So this 18-year-old began a career. Some 16 years later, I would be offered the Chief of Administration position at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I would end my career here as Program Manager after working 18 years at those great parks, and 35 ½ years with the National Park Service. Today, I live in Three Rivers, CA, at the foothills of Sequoia National Park. These Sierra parks are huge and time is needed to really explore them. Ninety percent are in the backcountry, most in wilderness. But with a few days, you can touch the giant Sequoias, climb Moro Rock, camp at peaceful Cedar Grove or Mineral King, or take the Crystal Cave tour.
Recently, my wife and I rode my motorcycle through both parks in one easy day. We took the Dry Creek backroad to Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, stopped by Giant Forest to take a short walk among the giant Sequoias, climbed Moro Rock for amazing panoramic views, and returned home to Three Rivers via foothills chaparral.
My passion is to ride my bike across America in pursuit of such wildness, in a manner that may have been done 100 years ago on horseback. I will camp lightly on the land, observe and explore nature, reconnect with families and ancestors, and share my adventures, which will take me along trails that might have been traveled by John Muir or Juan de Oñate. They were explorers at heart, and that wildness drove them deep into wilderness. One pursued gold and another pursued nature, yet both had similar passions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have served our country, working in some of the crown jewels of America: Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, Yellowstone, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The park system is full of natural, historical, cultural, and recreational wonders. Some of the lesser known areas that I worked at are equally important: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, and Joshua Tree and Pinnacles National Parks.
On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. A very special date in our history. We can all relate to our national parks—many in our own backyards. Perhaps the next 100 years will be the most important, teaching our children the value of preserving and protecting nature, keeping our national parks alive and well, and for me, all in the pursuit of wildness. In upcoming issues, I’ll be sharing my journey through these well- and lesser-known parks, and look forward to offering tips on how you can plan a trip of your own.
Text and Photography: Robert Griego