“Sunset” Has Risen

March 19, 2014

in Travel Essays

  • SumoMe

For nearly forty years I had been a subscriber to Sunset magazine whose tagline had been “The Magazine of Western Living.”

ThunderbirdThe pages of Sunset were filled with ideas for home remodeling, gardening, cooking and entertaining aimed at those who, like me, reside in the Western United States.

What I enjoyed most about Sunset were its travel articles focusing on destinations not only in California where I lived, but in states within an hour or two of flying time, or a day or two of highway driving, from my home.

By the time I picked up my first copy of Sunset, it had been published for seventy-five years.

But four years ago, I hardly ever read it because its coverage of “Travel” had virtually evaporated, like seasonal rains falling on a dry lake bed.

Death Valley National Park is one of the most unique places I’ve visited. At Furnace Creek, where a great green swath of vegetation cuts across the brown desert landscape, you’re awash in water. A few miles up the road, it’s “Water, Water Nowhere, and Not a Drop to Drink.”

There are high, snow-capped mountains, and low, salt-encrusted desert floors. When it does rain, and at just the right time, wildflowers explode across the hillsides.

So when I opened an issue of Sunset and saw a two-page photo spread of Death Valley and I said to myself “Neat-o! Can’t wait to read the story.”

But there was no story,  just a little blurb with the Website address for the park tucked into the upper right-hand corner of the photo spread.

How could a magazine that covers travel not have a story that went with the photo?

At about the same time, I ran into a former newspaper “Travel” section editor that I knew. Both of us agreed that Sunset was no longer a publication either of us read in order to find inspiration to travel.

But as the saying goes, that was then, and this is now.

Over the last four years, Sunset has re-invented itself as source of travel stories. In fact, it occasionally does something I never remember it every doing during its “Golden Age” of publication: It runs travel essays.

In its March 2014 edition, Sunset provides a guide to six U.S. National Parks in the West, all of which I’ve been to over the past four decades: Glacier, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and Yosemite. Each park story has sections of useful information entitled “When to Go,” “Where to Stay,” “First-Time Essentials,” “Seen It All Before?” and “Beat The Crowds.”

But what makes that edition special is the essay by former National Park ranger and novelist, Nevada Barr, whose books such as Track of the Cat and A Superior Death are set in national parks across the country. Here are excerpts from that essay:

“Whatever your abilities, if you are alive and sensate, the parks will make you whole in a way manmade aids and entertainments cannot.

* * * * *

“The national parks were America’s best idea. They went from an idea to a reality. Embrace them, savor them, use them, wallow in them. They will save your soul.”

The Internet and the World Wide Web have had an enormously disruptive impact on the publication of travel stories. Few U.S.newspapers now have a full-time “Travel” editor and their Sunday travel sections have shrunk dramatically. Travel magazines have disappeared.

Some of the travel stories that might have once appeared in printed newspapers and magazines now appear online. But paid advertising, which is the life blood for most publications, is much lower for online outlets. And that means they have less money to pay writers for travel stories and that in turn means fewer such stories, particularly in-depth stories, are available to readers and travelers.

And hardly anyone publishes travel essays.

Sunset has reversed course and its “Travel” coverage is no longer sailing toward oblivion.

And that means that when I pull my copy of the magazine out of the mailbox each month, I’ll now read all of the travel stories in it instead of tossing it in the recycling bin as I was likely to do just four years ago.

(Nevada Barr’s books are available in various formats from Amazon.com. Purchases made through links on this page help Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories. You can subscribe to Sunset magazine, including its digital edition which can be reader on various tablets and e-readers, directly through its Website. Better yet, if you are a California resident, become member of the California State Parks Foundation and receive a subscription to Sunset as part of your membership.)

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