Before They're Gone (Hardcover)

A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks

By Michael Lanza

Beacon Press, 9780807001196, 224pp.

Publication Date: April 3, 2012

List Price: 24.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A longtime backpacker, climber, and skier, Michael Lanza knows our national parks like the back of his hand. As a father, he hopes to share these special places with his two young children. But he has seen firsthand the changes wrought by the warming climate and understands what lies ahead: Alaska’s tidewater glaciers are rapidly retreating, and the abundant sea life in their shadow departs with them. Encroaching tides threaten beloved wilderness coasts like Washington’s Olympic and Florida’s Everglades. Less snowfall and hotter summers will diminish Yosemite’s world-famous waterfalls. And it is predicted that Glacier National Park’s 7,000-year-old glaciers will be gone in a decade.
To Lanza, it feels like the house he grew up in is being looted. Painfully aware of the ecological—and spiritual—calamity that global warming will bring to our nation’s parks, Lanza sets out to show his children these wonders before they have changed forever.
He takes his nine-year-old son, Nate, and seven-year-old daughter, Alex, on an ambitious journey to see as many climate-threatened wild places as he can fit into a year: backpacking in the Grand Canyon, Glacier, the North Cascades, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and along the wild Olympic coast; sea kayaking in Alaska’s Glacier Bay; hiking to Yosemite’s waterfalls; rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park; cross-country skiing in Yellowstone; and canoeing in the Everglades.
Through these poignant and humorous adventures, Lanza shares the beauty of each place and shows how his children connect with nature when given “unscripted” time. Ultimately, he writes, this is more their story than his, for whatever comes of our changing world, they are the ones who will live in it.

About the Author

Michael Lanza is a veteran freelance outdoors writer and photographer. He is the northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, where his articles about the impacts of climate change on Montana’s Glacier National Park and other wild lands helped Backpacker win a National Magazine Award. He runs the website TheBigOutside.

Praise For Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks

"This is a terrific blend of adventure ('Seeing a bison gallop thirty miles an hour—as they can—is like seeing a grand piano suddenly sprout horns and charge you with the speed of a horse.') and ecological forecasting (and forewarning) that aptly conveys the passion of a devoted outdoorsman, and serves as a wake-up call to the state of our planet."—Publishers Weekly

“An informative, heartwarming and, at times, heart-stopping read.”—Colleen McBrinn, Today’s Travel blog
“The season’s must-read new memoir.”—Outside’s Raising Rippers blog
“A beautifully written, moving meditation.”—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle

"Before They're Gone is a beautifully written, moving meditation on the meaning of parenthood, our parks, and the first generation of children to grow up in the age of global warming."—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods

“Intriguing premise; decent execution—certainly of interest to environmentalists and other eco-minded readers.”—Kirkus Review

“Michael Lanza braids a story of family, wilderness, and climate that's at once heartwarming and terrifying. I envy his kids for the incredible year they spent exploring America's finest wild places. And I mourn that they—and my own daughter—will have to endure the devastating consequences of our heating planet. Lanza makes abundantly clear that our children deserve better than the legacy we’re leaving them.”—John Harlin, author of The Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain that Killed My Father

“I grew up in a national park, worked in twelve others and have visited well over two hundred of them. Their values, for people like me, often are taken for granted. In this wonderful book, Michael Lanza’s children learn and experience what is most important about our national parks – the necessity to leave them ‘unimpaired for future generations’ – and why.”—Bill Wade, Chair, Executive Council, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park

“Delightful … a fresh and engaging way to tell the climate change story.”—Laura Helmuth, senior science editor, Smithsonian

“Wilderness adventurers like Lanza are the advance scouts of global warming, bringing back firsthand testimony from pristine landscapes that powerfully corroborates what climate scientists are telling us about our changing planet. But this eyewitness report is much more than an impassioned polemic: it’s also an entertaining collection of backcountry anecdotes—surprise encounters with grizzlies, anxious moments on glaciers and wild coastlines, jaw-dropping views from remote summits—that bring climate change to life in a way that’s more palpable and persuasive than any data chart. Above all, Before They’re Gone is a fetching love letter to Mike’s wife, children, and friends and to the wild places he treasures as only a hiker, climber, and explorer can.”—Jonathan Dorn, editor in chief, Backpacker