The Recovery Package: Smart Marketing
Ken Burns hopes to do for the national parks what Peter Jackson did for New Zealand: turn destinations into stars. Burns's epic 12-hour documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea premieres May 22 at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival and will air on PBS this September. If its aggressive early publicity campaign is any indication, the network thinks the series will rival Burns's The Civil War in scope and reachmeaning legislators will be hearing a lot about public wilderness in the coming year. "It's going to really rekindle interest," says Bryan Faehner, associate director for park uses with the National Parks Conservation Association, "and hopefully get people to remind their congressmen to fund the parks."
THE INSIDER: David Elkowitz, chief of interpretation and 13-year park veteran
THE BOTTLENECK: "The Lost Mine Trail, off Basin Road, and the Window Trail, near the Chisos Basin visitor center, are probably the most popular among day-trippers," says Elkowitz. "But in the summer there are hardly any crowds. People think it's too hot. It might be 105 along the Rio Grande, but it's 20 degrees cooler in the mountains."
THE BACK DOOR: "Some of my favorite hiking is in the Dead Horse Mountains, on the eastern side of the park," says Elkowitz. Try the Marufo Vega Trail, 3.5 miles off the Boquillas Canyon Road. "After four miles the trail splits," says Elkowitz. "Take the north forkabout half a mile from the split, there are wonderful views looking into the Strawhouse Canyon, which resembles a miniGrand Canyon with big limestone bluffs."Halfway through the 14-mile trail, you end up overlooking the Rio Grande, 200 feet below. Or bring a mountain bike. With 180 miles of open dirt roads scattered across the park, Big Bend is one of the most mountain-bike-friendly national parks (trail information is available at Desert Sports, in Terlingua; 888-989-6900). Plus the International Mountain Bicycling Association is working with the NPS to open five miles of singletrack northwest of Panther Junction, in the center of the park.
THE LAUNCH PAD: The Chisos Mountains Lodge (doubles, $120; chisosmountainslodge.com) is eight miles from the Basin Road, in the middle of the 800,000-acre park. Kick off your boots on the stone patio, watch the sun set over the Chisos, and crack a locally brewed Shiner Bock.