Reader Participation Day: Which Songs Do You Connect With National Parks?

Few pieces of music evoke a clearer picture of a park experience that the "On the Trail" movement in Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. NPS photo.

Are there one or more pieces of music that remind you of a national park – or a park experience?

Some compositions, such as Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, have clear connections to a park. Others, such as "Rocky Mountain High," might bring to mind a specific park - or a whole state with lots of great parks.

A quick Google search will turn up a surprising number of tunes with park connections. Not many of us have likely heard the Disney long playing album, Songs of the National Parks with Stan Jones and the Ranger Chorus ... but this old-timer is still available from iTunes!

How about you? Do you have any favorite pieces of music that you associate with one or more parks, or just national parks in general?

If so, what are they ... and which parks do they bring to mind?


"They took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum

And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got till it's gone

They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot"

- Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

The entrance fee has apparently increased ten-fold in the past fifty years here at Mount Rainier. Local legend has it that Joni was a maid at the Paradise Inn during the Mission 66 road-building mania. There are still a couple "boutiques", but the longtime "swinging hot spot" from a previous verse was converted to accessible rooms recently. This dismayed the local alcoholics, but made life a bit easier for the poor late-shift road patrol rangers.

"Country Roads" by John Denver, definitely--Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway...

Our friend David Walburn performs at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier NP during the summer and we catch his shows every time we're there! One of his multi-media presentations is, "Montana: Life Under The Big Sky" and our favorite song is "Going To The Sun" where he sings of the building of the famous and beautiful, "Going To The Sun Road!"

Gonna build a road Going to the Sun

Pack up your horses men move them up the hill
She’ll take a ton of powder and a hundred strong willed
But don’t look up and tell us there’s no place to build a road
‘Cause we’ll bury disbelievers when that powder blows

CHORUS We’re gonna build a road Going to the Sun
We’re gonna move mountains one by one
It may take a lifetime Lord but when the work is done
We’re gonna have a road Going to the Sun

Now it’s silver dollar wages plus your room and board
You won’t get rich but will receive good standing with the Lord
So swing your hammer steady and be faithful to the task
‘Cause if we want to get to heaven boys we must cross Logan Pass

CHORUS (Repeat)

A million years of limestone must me moved by hand
Wide enough along sheer cliff for thirty men to stand
From St. Mary’s to Lake McDonald along the Garden Wall
Where once only a few could go - will now be shared by all

CHORUS (Repeat)

When that faithful day comes and eastside meets the west
We’ll gather on the great divide and weary bones will rest
And we’ll smoke the pipe of peace and we’ll honor all the ones
Who dared to dream the dream of Going to the Sun

- The (sadly defunct) Brooklyn indie rock band Oxford Collapse had a song called "Please Visit your National Parks" ( )

- The Go! Team had a beautiful instrumental on their 2011 album "Rolling Blackouts" called "Yosemite Theme" ( ) which always seemed to me quite fitting

- Then there is a young band called Point Reyes with a self-titled EP as their only release so far, on it is another atmospherical song called "Yosemite" ( )

That's an easy one...Conviction of the Heart!

Park Ranger by Raldo Schneider & The Swaybacks

"I wanna wear olive green

I wanna keep outhouses clean

I wanna shake hands with mother nature

I wanna dig post holes

I wanna whip weeds

I wanna meet the public's needs

I, I wanna be a park ranger"

There's also a new song that I've only heard played on a country station in Virginia. It's called Shenandoah and it's by a local girl. I always get tears in my eyes when I hear it because it brings back images of growing up in the foothills outside the park.

Rocky Mountain High.

I believe John Denver was camping in the Rockies with friends watching a meteor shower "fire in the sky" when he was inspired to write the song.

"O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.

America, America, God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."

I know that was written on Pike's Peak, not a National Park, but that's one I think of regarding any of our great mountainous parks - Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Glacier, etc.

I just got back from a week in Glacier NP. Instead of focusing on lyrics and/or the message in the songs, I found myself constantly reaching for two artists - Ryan Bingham and Hayes Carll. Why? The music worked with the land. These were the right sounds for the right place.

If I'd been somewhere other than Glacier, the results might have been different. Heading to Mammoth Cave this weekend and I don't know if I'll reach for the same tunes. Maybe some Hank III for this trip. But whatever you pick, it needs to marry sound and place.

Two completely different pieces, associated with Glacier. First, if you fire up Leonard Bernstein's Requiem Mass right at the first big turn on Going-to-the-Sun road going from West to east, (by the gravel pit, when you turn left to start the big climb), the music creates a sound track for the road like no other-- swelling with the turns, etc. Try it, classical music lovers!

Secondly, extraordinary park ranger Dave Casteel used to sing the old song which inspired the name of the Garden Wall at his campfire programs:

"Over the Garden Wall/ the sweetest girl of all/

There never were such eyes of jet/and even yet/ who can forget?

The night our lips in kisses met/over the Garden Wall"

Accoustic guitar, generally (partly because of Al Petteway's music being used in Ken Burns's documentary). I listened to William Ackerman around the Grand Canyon (though the Grofe work within, and Copland in the long desert drive back to Vegas). Listened to California Guitar Trio in Shenandoah, and Ackerman and/or Petteway through the Great Smokeys.

Michael Hedges and Steve Howe through Sequoia. Yosemite was unusual in that on the drive there we were in a Pixar mood that kept going, so while in the valley floor it was the score for Finding Nemo. Go fig.

When I was driving through Yellowstone last week I kept listening to Eddie Vedder's song Guaranteed off the Into the Wild soundtrack. If you haven't had the oppertunity to listen to it you should or just read this set of lyrics:

Don't come closer or I'll have to go, Holding me like gravity are places that pull, If ever there was someone to keep me at home, It would be you...

Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere, Underneath my being is a road that disappeared, Late at night I hear the trees, they're singing with the dead, Overhead...

Leave it to me as I find a way to be, Consider me a satellite forever orbiting, I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me, Guaranteed

Eddie Vedder "Into the wild" soundtrack

Anything by John Denver. Since my girls were little and we started to visit National Parks, we would put on John Denver. Now as teenagers, they actually make sure that we don't forget the CD of his greatest hits before we go exploring any National Park.

Vast blue skies and scenic sandstone vistas, cliff dwellings and petroglyphs... I always listen to Native American flute music when visiting national parks and monuments in the Four Corners region, including Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, Monument Valley tribal park and Mesa Verde. Flute music captures the eerie spirit of the region and pays homage to an ancient people long vanished.

When I was out at Canyonlands last month for the better part of a week, the iPod stayed off. I enjoyed the relative quiet, and the dry but refreshing breeze blowing through the car. I was able to talk and enjoy.

However, once I got out of the park the iPod got plugged in and turned on to whatever my random playlist chose for me.

When I was 12 my first vinyl album purchase was "Grand Canyon Sweet." Fifty years later I was riding a mule into the Grand Canyon when I heard thunder in the distance and combined with the mule step sounds it all came back to me realized I'd come full circle. Beautiful!!

Listen to the music OF the parks, not recorded music in the parks! Just the plain ole silence, what a luxury!

The words of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" remind us of Yellowstone -

"Field and forest, vale and mountain, Flowery meadow, flashing sea, Chanting bird and flowing fountain, Call us to rejoice in Thee."

These lines from "How Great Thou Art" remind us of Glacier

"When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze."

Echoes, by Pink Floyd when driving through Arches