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Thursday, February 25, 2016

The top secret source of my inspiration!

When meeting with my readers and fans, I'm often asked where do I get my ideas. My quick answer is from my past experiences.  The oft quoted cliché for author's is write what you know. The longer answer to this question is my past travels, family life, and work have shaped my experiences which in turn shape the material I can draw from for my work.

But it is my time with the park service that serves as the inspiration for much of my work. I've worked at iconic parks like Yellowstone and Glacier, but also visited more than half of the nation's park system from the Everglades to Denali, from Acadia to Death Valley and countless parks in between.

Visiting and working in these parks revealed that America is a diverse country, one made up of millions of people, places, and more importantly stories. While working with the park service I had the honor of personally meeting tens of thousands of people from all over the world. In my interaction with these visitors I found people are attracted to the parks for many of the reasons one would expect, the scenery, the wildlife, the history, the recreation, the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. However, many are attracted for other reasons. Some come for the adventure national parks represent, some are drawn to the mystery parks can contain, the opportunity to discover something about themselves, their country and world.

Then there was a select set of visitors who came to the parks for the conspiracies they hold and represent. On more than one occasion, I met with visitors who were convinced Yellowstone national park belonged to the United Nations, while others thought Glacier National Park is the site of a super secret Nazi base hiding a lost gold train.  At the North Cascades, I once spent much of an afternoon discussing with a visitor his passionate belief the United States never went to the moon. Other conspiracies I heard included the Park Service's air dropping wolves and other endangered species into wilderness areas to push out cattle ranchers, the Park Service working with the Department of Homeland Security to depopulate the country, and the nefarious disappearance of thousands of people from the National Park backcountry.

These visitors' active imagination became the source for the themes at the heart of my two thrillers. Unleashing Colter's Hell for example, centers around a potential terrorist attack on the park which ignites the super volcano, destroying the United States in the process.  Meanwhile, Lost Cause focuses on a extreme right wing militia attack on Civil War battlefields in the hope of starting a second civil war. My next thriller, Need to Know is due out later this year and figuratively takes off after a UFO sighting at Mount Rainier National Park.

Conspiracy theories are fertile ground for writers, especially thriller writers who can take the public's acceptance of simple solutions to complex problems and spin it into compelling stories.

Where will my next thriller go? What conspiracies will it explore? Well to paraphrase the X-File, as long as people go to the national parks, the source of the next thriller is out there.

Do you have a favorite national park conspiracy theory? Please share in the comments section. Perhaps it will turn up in one of my future thrillers!

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Sunday, February 7, 2016

National Park Bowl! The Flyers vs. the Dinosaurs!

Today is the 50th playing of the Super Bowl.  To mark the historic season , Park Thrillers mashed up all 32 NFL teams with their national park counterparts.  Today we are down to two, the Carolina Flyers and the Denver Dinosaurs.

Carolina's mashup park is the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, the site where the Wright Brothers taught the world to fly.  Meanwhile, Denver's mashup park is Dinosaur National Monument in the Northwest corner of Colorado. Dinosaur National Monument is the site of one of the world's largest collection of dinosaur fossils.

Who are you rooting for in the first National Park Bowl?

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Presidency and National Parks: Two Great American Ideas

President Obama and family in  Acadia National Park.
White House Photo
February 15th is President's Day, the one day we honor all the people who served in America's highest office. At the time of the Constitution's ratification, a country's highest executive office serving as president was a unique and radical idea. Many founders, before adopting the idea of a president, flirted with a chief executive akin to a dictator or king. But having just fought a war to overthrow one king, the founding father's rightly rejected this idea.

A presidency is an idea that Americans have truly made their own. Another truly American idea is that of the national park. With President's Day fast approaching, here are my top five favorite presidential national parks.

5. Yellowstone: This park may surprise some for making this list.  However, given that it was the world's first national park, requiring congress and President U.S. Grant to set precedent makes a perfect candidate for a presidential national park.

4. Devils' Tower: Another park that wouldn't come to mind of most. Yet, Devil's Tower most definitely deserves to be on the list. In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt used presidential power to create the Devils' Tower national monument. This was the first time a precedent used executive power to expand federal protection to public lands.  Roosevelt went on to establish numerous monuments including the Grand Canyon national monuments. Many of these monuments later were elevated to national parks by Congress.

3. Mount Rushmore is the first obvious choice. This massive granite edifice would likely make everyone's list of presidential national parks. The park memorializes some of America's greatest commanders in chief. Many however don't realize why the president who are carved in South Dakota's Black Hills were chosen for this honor, in short its because each in their time in office set a precedent that still impacts us today.  Washington was chosen for his example of stepping down from office and peacefully transferring governmental power after two terms. This peaceful power transfer is an example of good government that Americans can be rightly proud.  Jefferson was chosen for his negotiations with France to purchase the Louisiana territory. This like Washington was an example of the federal government's policy of using negotiation and compensation to expand its domain. Lincoln was obviously selected for his saving of the Union. Lincoln knew with great clarity and conviction that if the south was allowed to leave the Union, the United States would not long survive this cleavage. Rather, the previous United States would likely be cast into a Balkanized state that could be easily picked off by larger powers. Lincoln always realized the injustice and threat slavery represented to our national soul and rightly worked to abolish it.  Finally, Teddy Roosevelt was carved onto Mount Rushmore because of his desire to leave not just political goods but natural resources for future generations. Roosevelt was among the first to see the limits of our public domain and the need to conserve some it for Americans yet unborn.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C
National Archives
2. The Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and Washington Monuments are the second obvious
choice. These Greek and Egyptian inspired monuments enshrine three of the presidents who help shape not only the nation but what it means to serve as president. Serving as the first Commander and Chief, everything George Washington did was precedent setting and is why he is rightly referred as the father of our country. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and set down for the entire world to see that America believes all are created equal.  Abraham Lincoln followed Jefferson's lead and committed America to the path that Jefferson's ideal extended to all Americans.  While are nation isn't perfect, no one can deny that progress has been made on nearly every front, and national parks such as the Lincoln Mermorial have been the setting for much of this progress.

White House and South Lawn
Daniel Schwen
1. The White House is my last choice as a presidential national park.  Unknown to many, the White House is part of the National Park System. The National Park Service is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance, as Barack Obama recently stated one of the perks of being president is getting to live in a national park. The White House serves not only as the focus of the federal government, but its fitting that the symbol of that power is part of the national park system which has a mission to preserve and protect America's most treasured ideas,hopes, and places for present and future generations.

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers