Find Your Park

What is your favorite National Park?

It is the most common question I get asked when talking about our summer trips to the National Parks.   And it’s not an easy one to answer.   We’ve now explored 38 of the 59 U.S. National Parks.  Take a glance at my 13 Summers page to see a list of all U.S. National Parks and the ones we’ve visited to date.

The National Parks really do offer something for everyone.  We’ve all seen the vivid colors of calendars and screensavers, and the sprawling vistas advertised on TV.  Do you dream of exploring the rocky heat of the desert or climbing great mountains or of getting lost in the deep woods?  Do you want to fish in pristine rivers?  Photograph rare wildlife?  Explore a dark cave?  Or just stare up at the worlds tallest trees?

The thing is, having a relationship with nature, and with America’s Parks, takes more than just looking at someone else’s pictures, or watching a carefully filmed advertisement on TV.   Knowing nature is experiencing nature.  When people ask me to pick my favorite park, I don’t necessarily think of the ones that were the most beautiful.  I think of the ones where my experiences there were the most memorable.

I love the Grand Tetons because of the time we went kayaking in Jackson Lake, and the weather was so perfect and the mood so right that we pulled up to a rocky beach, stripped down to our under-roos and went swimming underneath the shadow of the great mountains, and the afternoon is a memory full of the shimmering laughter of the kids.

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I love Glacier because of the amazing 12 mile round-trip hike to Grinnel Glacier.    It was their longest hike yet, and they completed it in spectacular fashion.  We ate blackberries on the way up, we soaked our aching soles in a glacier lake, we rested our eyes on a disappearing glacier, we even saw the tail end of a grizzly on our way back down.  And at the end of that long day we feasted at Many Glacier Lodge and watched the sunset behind the mountains.  It was a most perfect day.

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I love the North Cascades because I remember the many fun hours the kids spent on the rope swing at the floating Ross Lake Lodge.

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I love Olympic because I watched my young children form streams and build rock dams on the river edge and play make believe with their stuffed animals in the middle of the Hoh Rainforest.

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I love Guadalupe Mountains because of the great adventure we had camped on a desert hillside in the middle of the frightening thunderstorm.  We had nowhere to go unless we drove out of the park, and we hid out and played cards all night to take our minds of the cracking thunder, the soaking wet tent falling down around us, and the lightning flashes we saw flash in the night.

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I love Big Bend because of the memory of my kids rolling in the mud on the banks of the Rio Grande and playing mud monsters to everyone that walked by them.

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I love Padre Island because we watched the sea turtles get released at sunrise and make their way to the great wide ocean.

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I love Bandelier because of adventure of climbing all those ladders over mountains of rock, and then later the memory of our tent finally collapsing and we had to throw it out in the middle of our trip.

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I love Haleakala because of the moment we all watched the sunrise above the clouds, hand in hand.

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I love Isle Royale because of the memory of the last three miles of our 44 mile backpacking trek across the island – we are all so sore and beyond exhausted, and then my entertaining son played his Gollum character and laughed us all the way to the end.

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I love Zion because of the moment we had on the top of Angels Landing, looking down into the great valley and around at each other, and I remember thinking about how strong and determined my children are, to achieve something like this at their age.

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I Love Joshua Tree because it was the very first park of our very first trip, and nothing warms my heart as much as looking back on those photos of the kids all those years ago, laughing and playing together in nature.

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Yes, it’s hard to pick a favorite park.  Maybe impossible.  But that’s a GOOD thing.  There are so many beautiful places waiting for you to see, and there are so many adventures out there, waiting to be had.  Remember, the National Parks are Your Parks.  Don’t forget about them.  Don’t make excuses not to go.  Don’t watch them through screens and photographs.  Just pick one and get there, and you’ll find that it’ll become your favorite too.

There are many more stories to share, and many more parks to show you.  I have some posted around this website, others are waiting to be published, and I’ll continue to share them here as I have time.   You can check here for some sample road trip itineraries.  Also, follow the links in the categories list on the right side of the page to find articles about parks in different U.S. regions.

If you’ve been to any NPS lands in the past year you’ve probably seen some sign of the Find Your Park campaign, launched in celebration of this year’s 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service on August 25, 2016.  The NPS was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and today manages over 400 land sites.  Yellowstone was America’s first national park, established when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill to establish it in 1872.  Visit the www.findyourpark.com website to find hundreds of stories from park visitors as well as other information for visiting the parks.

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Maybe find your park tomorrow.  In honor of Martin Luther King, entrance into all National Parks is free on January 18th.  Take a hike, create a memory, laugh with your family, and maybe you’ll find your favorite park too.

Happy Trails,

~Cassie

 

A Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

I am excited to be publishing my 3rd itinerary!  It’s difficult to think of just one word that sums up the places we saw in the Southwest…  perhaps Vast.  Timeless.  Humbling.  Beautiful.

I will never forget the rock formations of the Chiricahuas which seem forgotten by time and society, but are waiting to amaze you, strewn out in the middle of a lonely desert; or when we ran wild across the endless stretches of dunes at White Sands -a breathtaking, other-worldly experience; and swimming in the hot springs at Big Bend, watching the vast night sky with more stars than we thought possible rotating around us.  It was a simultaneously humbling and exhilarating experience.  Watching the hatchling sea turtles released on the shores of Padre Island at dawn was such an inspiring statement of hope, and somehow you walk away from it with more faith in life.  The Johnson Space Center of Houston reminds you of how far we have travelled, and walking the ruins of Pecos and Bandelier in northern New Mexico reminds you of how very long we have been travelling.  And the Grand Canyon, a place where you can watch millions of years pass by in a single moment of time.  It almost takes your breath away.

You can find and download this itinerary here by clicking on the Itinerary #3 Heading.  I hope you find as much enjoyment and inspiration from this trip as we did.  And no matter where you are planning to go this summer, I hope you are indeed making plans to travel.

Happy Trails
~Cassie

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Grand Canyon National Park, 2011

Thank You, Park Ranger

To All National Park Service Employees,

Today you are not at work, and I am sorry for that.  I wish I could do something to help you, but unfortunately the only thing I can do is hope that the government shutdown will be short lived, that the parks will re-open quickly, and that you will be back on payroll soon.   In the meantime, I would like to share a note of thanks.   I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not thanked you before.  For the past five years you have helped us, inspired us, protected us, guided us, taught us, made us laugh, and become a part of our own unique family memories at America’s parks.

You’ve ensured the safety of my family by monitoring the road, campground, and weather conditions.  You’ve watched animal movement, and taught us how to keep both ourselves and the animals safe.  You’ve maintained trail signs, bulletin boards, safety notices, and relayed vital up-to-the minute visitor information.  In 2009, after receiving a worried phone call from my husband, a Park Ranger in Sequoia National Park even hunted down my kids and I just to make sure we were ok.   A few days later we were in Yosemite National Park and another Park Ranger took the time to stop by our campsite and invite us to a twilight ranger walk.  He made the effort to get to know my kids, taught them a game and made them laugh, and during our walk together he even inspired a five year old to see the great mystery and beauty of a park meadow.  Thank you for making our first experience at the parks a great one.

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2009 – Yosemite National Park

You have guided us through so many beautiful places and taught us about why they are preserved.  We have followed you through underground caves, mountain passes, over rivers, and on forest trails.  You have taught us not only the names and locations of the plants and animals that live within the boundaries of the parks, but also about the unique roles they play in the environment.   You have humored my kids as they always, always, push through to the front of a group and nag you with dozens of questions and tell you their stories as we hike along together.  You’ve listened to them, just as much as you’ve talked to them.  Thank you.

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2010 – Olympic National Park

You’ve taught my children that learning is fun!  Not only do you incorporate funny voices and crazy animal imitations into your fireside chats, but you also make our trips memorable with your incredible park ranger stories.  You’ve included life long learning into your career simply because you love the outdoors and you love our parks, and we get to witness your passion for the wild places on every trip.  You’ve served the people of our country every single day by making our lives a little bit better, and a little bit brighter.  Thank you for being such a phenomenal example to all of us.

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2011 – Big Bend National Park

You have shared your hands-on knowledge with us as we’ve listened to your ranger talks all over the country.   You have let us touch, see, smell, and hear the whisperings of our country’s great wildernesses.   You’ve taught us about the indicator species of different forests, about endangered species protected within park boundaries, and about our changing climate and disappearing glaciers.  You’ve told us about what it’s like to work at the parks and the usually funny but always rich stories of how the parks were established.   You are always patient and happy to relay the information you have learned through your training and your travels.  You’ve taught us that learning takes a lifetime.  Thank you for your priceless service.

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2012 – Glacier National Park

You took every single Junior Ranger badge seriously.  I know this could not have been easy, with three excited kids in front of you after you’d probably already seen a dozen of them that day alone, repeating the same information over and over and over… but you made them feel important, and you took the time to ensure that they not only learned something, but that they would remember what they learned.  You greeted them with patience and laughter.   I remember a crowded visitor center at Hawaii Volcanoes,  and there were pushy adults trying to vie for your attention over the heads of the kids.  You made the adults wait in line while you taught something to my children.  It made them feel connected to you,  made them feel connected to their park, and maybe it even gave them a glimpse of how important they are to the future of our nation’s park service.  Thank you.

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2013 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Thank you for always being there when we come to visit.  Thank you for your time.  Thank you for your inspiration, information, protection, and passion.  Thank you for sharing the Nation’s Greatest Treasures with us.  Thank you for everything.  We hope to see you again very soon!

Happy Trails.
~Cassie