Literature and National Parks of the US

Since they were first created a hundred or so years ago, the national parks of the United States have occupied a unique position in the public mythos. Some of the modern continent’s most treasured writers have drawn upon the wild and untamed landscapes for inspiration, and you can still visit many of the favourite spots today.

Desolation Angels & Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

“…rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.” Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums

A true icon of American literature, Jack Kerouac wrote no less than three books about his experiences working as a forest fire lookout atop Desolation Peak, in the North Cascades National Park Complex, during the 1950s. However, it is Dharma Bums, and its semi-autobiographical freewheeling Zen Buddhist protagonist Ray Smith, that have resonated the most with readers over the years.

The above quote is just a small sample of the rambling stream of consciousness prose Kerouac employed to great effect, when romanticising the sweeping vistas of the Cascade mountains of North Washington state. The small fire lookout hut at the summit of Desolation Peak, in which the writer spent 67 days in 1953, is not officially open to the public.

But if you fancy a hike up to it? We won’t tell, if you don’t!

The Edgar Allen Poe House, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia

OK, so this one is not technically in a national park. But it is a national historic area, and those are administered by the National Parks Authority. The home of one of America’s most famous poets during the 1930’s, this modest terraced house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was designated a site of national historic interest in 1962.

Today it hosts a reading room, decorated to the specifics set out in his famous piece The Philosophy of Furniture, which also holds the entire collection of his works. The basement here is said to have inspired several key scenes in The Black Cat, which was published while he lived in the house. A commemorative statue of a raven, celebrating his most famous poem The Raven, also stands outside.

Robert Frost

Visitors to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Historic Park in Vermont, can follow the Robert Frost trail which accompanies scenic walks along with this classic poet’s natural world inspired verses.

In his poem Birches, which celebrates the familiar New England landscape of the park, Frost wrote:

“Often you must have seen them

Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning

After a rain. They click upon themselves

As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored

As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.”

Quite the description indeed, and one that does worthy justice to this beautiful trail – one that makes up the only part of the National Park system in the State of Vermont.