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I first picked up the book “Leave Only Footprints” with the thought, “Eh, I love national parks, I should read it.” I have to admit, I initially judge a book by its cover, and it wasn’t my favorite cover. But once I started reading it, I knew quickly I was going to like it. “Leave Only Footprints,” is a book about every national park. It is informative and entertaining. Author Connor Knighton makes you feel like you are on a journey to visit every national park, and you come away with interesting tidbits of information.
Knighton wrote the book from his journey to visit every national park during the centennial year of the National Park Service in 2016. Having just gone through a major breakup, he decided to distract himself with a big project. And visiting every national park in a calendar year was a major undertaking. At the time of his venture, there were 59 parks with the designation of “national park.”
This doesn’t include places like the Buffalo National River. Although the National Park Service manages the Buffalo River, it has the designation of the national river. At the date of this blog post, there are 63 units in the National Park Service with the designation of “national park.” And in the paperback book of “Leave Only Footprints,” Knighton adds in the parks that have been added since – Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and New River Gorge – to his epilogue.
One aspect that I really enjoyed in the book “Leave Only Footprints,” is the way Knighton divides up the massive subject of our national parks.
Each chapter has a theme. So, for example, instead of saying, “And over here, we have Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s known for big piles of sand.” He paints a picture. And then goes on to say that Great Sand Dunes is known as one of the quietest places in the country. In the same chapter entitled “Sound” he points out the sounds of “Heeey Bear!” that you hear at Katmai National Park.
Knighton has a smart wit, which makes his book entertaining and enjoyable. You feel like your funny friend is telling you a story. For example, he describes Badlands National Park as a love child between Mordor and the Shire. When I read that, I laughed out loud. And I immediately sent that line to my brother. He’s a “Lord of the Rings” fan and we visited the Badlands together.
The way he explains the science of our national parks is also like conversing with a friend.
You’re learning interesting details, but it doesn’t read like a textbook. “My default explanation for any marvel of Mother Nature is generally ‘volcanoes and erosion and stuff,’ which tends to be right 90 percent of the time. Always bet on volcanoes,” he writes.
Knighton also weaves in snippets from his personal life. He talks about crying over the breakup that caused him to go on the journey. And about his dating while on the road. This part adds to the aspect that makes you feel like you are having a conversation with a friend.
You also learn about his friend and photographer, Efrain, who had never been on a boat before filming at Biscayne National Park.
After spending a week with my best friend exploring Joshua Tree and Channel Islands National Parks, I found myself giving her snippets of facts. “Oh yeah, that was in that book I read,” I’d say. Crystal and I have been to a few national parks together, so I had lots to share with her.
But on Channel Islands, it was really neat to see the Channel Islands fox, a unique fox species. In the book “Leave Only Footprints,” Knighton talks about how the Channel Islands fox almost went extinct. But through the efforts of the national park biologists, they were able to bring it back.
“Leave Only Footprints,” is a great book to learn a little about all the national parks. Knighton does an excellent job of educating and entertaining.