“We were very happy to show Joshua Tree just how awesome the sunsets out here are,” says Sharlot Hart, acting lead interpreter at Saguaro, who’s had a hand in the campaign. (Her colleague, Lauren Nichols, was the one to make the fateful post; now on leave, “she probably doesn’t even know what she started,” Hart says.)
<p>One of the most photographed views in <a href="http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/zion-national-park/" target="_blank">Zion National Park</a>, and perhaps all of the parks, is the view of the Watchman from the Canyon Junction Bridge. Although it has been shot endless times, and you are sure to be shoulder to shoulder with other photographers during sunset, it is still something everyone must do when visiting the park. My favorite spot is right at the center of the bridge where the river leads the eye to the Watchman in the background.</p>
Watchman at Zion National Park
One of the most photographed views in Zion National Park, and perhaps all of the parks, is the view of the Watchman from the Canyon Junction Bridge. Although it has been shot endless times, and you are sure to be shoulder to shoulder with other photographers during sunset, it is still something everyone must do when visiting the park. My favorite spot is right at the center of the bridge where the river leads the eye to the Watchman in the background.
Photograph by Jonathan Irish
Saguaro National Park, whose two wings embrace Tucson, Arizona, isn’t one of the big-name parks. But its stunning sunsets more than hold their own against those in Joshua Tree, its bigger California cousin. No public consensus has yet been reached regarding which park does, in fact, have the superior sunsets.
“Just know that we’re right,” says Hart.
Not Just a Pretty Face
Nearby festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach draw extra visitors from the Instagramming crowd to Joshua Tree, and like many NPS officials, they’re trying to make the connection, using pretty pictures to communicate visiting information, fun facts, and safety tips.
“We’re like, ‘Please don’t touch the cholla cactus,’” laughs Kristi Rugg, media branch chief at Joshua Tree. “‘Please be careful when you’re hiking; it gets really hot.’”
A short trip from major cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Diego, Joshua Tree has seen attendance triple over the last decade. Over three million people are expected to visit this year, Rugg says. But it’s also one of 17 big-name parks whose fees may soon double following a 2017 NPS proposal, intended to provide funds for overdue maintenance, that has raised concerns about accessibility.
“It’s not all about [the rangers], or the people going into the backcountry,” Hart says. “We’re national parks. We’re the people’s parks. So getting people out to take their own sunset pictures, and have that pride in public lands, is awesome.”
The sunset wars are reaching a détente—“this is a war where everyone wins,” a recent Saguaro post graciously notes—but the rangers aren’t done yet. That post also asks followers to suggest the topic of the next battle.