A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks

By Michael Lanza

Beacon. 197 pp. $24.95

Michael Lanza begins this account of family camping by sketching the new — but not improved — look that some national parks will take on if global warming is not checked soon. “Yosemite’s famous waterfalls . . . will lose their impressive force and peter out earlier in the year.” “Rising seas will inundate at least one-third of Olympic National Park’s seventy-three-mile-long wilderness coastline.” “Joshua Tree National Park . . . will lose its namesake flora.” Taking along their 8-year-old son, Nate, and their 6-year-old daughter, Alex, Lanza and his wife set out to visit the wilds of 10 national parks, most of them in the West but also including the Everglades in Florida, while the going was good.

In some ways, the kids behaved as you might expect. The profusion of boulders at Joshua Tree inspired them to make the park into a “jungle gym” — not just for themselves but also for their toys. “Using a twenty-foot length of thin utility cord I’ve given them,” Lanza writes, “they lower their stuffed animals down short cliffs.” But fears that Nate and Alex might squawk about being deprived of the comforts of home proved misguided.

“We should come back here for spring break so we can stay for a week,” Alex says at Joshua Tree. “I could almost weep,” her dad writes.

’Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks’ by Michael Lanza (Beacon Press)

By the end of the series of trips, Lanza reports, “Rating our adventures . . . on their own fun meter has become serious business to my kids.” He fears, though, that by the time Nate and Alex tell their own children about this era in their lives, “it may sound like the myth of Atlantis.”

— Dennis Drabelle