Published: October 2006
Michael Melford

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

After concentrating on all of the things that are wrong with our parks, it was nice to meet the volunteers who are making them better places. I met them everywhere I went, including such people as Paige Hisiro, who lights candles to honor Union soldiers who died in Gettysburg National Military Park (see "Our National Parks in Peril,") and Mike Keller, who cleans garbage out of geothermal pools in Yellowstone National Park. They were all accommodating, pleasant, and the highlight of my assignment.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

When I usually photograph national parks, I have the reverse commute of most tourists. I tend to head out very early in the morning to catch the sunrise and late in the evening for the sunsets when most people aren't around. But to get the photographs I needed for this story, I had to be on the same schedule as everyone else. I looked for the biggest crowds, so I found myself in places such as Yosemite Valley in the thick of afternoon traffic. I felt like a real tourist.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

In Yosemite, it's illegal to keep food in your car because the black bears in the park are pretty aggressive. With that in mind, as soon as I got back to my motel I threw away a fruit-and-cheese platter I had been eating in my car.

Well, when I woke up in the morning and went down to my car, I found paw prints on the hood, roof, and sides. Some of the rubber around the door had even been removed. The lingering smell of cheese—or maybe it was just me—attracted a bear. It was kind of funny because people are always looking for bears in Yosemite Valley. I guess if they really want to see one, all they have to do is spend the night in a car that smells like food.