This year, as a treat for myself, I planned a birthday trip to the Grand Canyon. I wanted to gift myself a Lifetime National Parks Pass, which I became eligible for this year. There are some perks to getting older.
Because of its close proximity, I chose to go to the Grand Canyon, a mere seven hours away. I wanted to see something beautiful to end 2017and to inspire me for 2018. I was not disappointed.
Two of my daughters were my traveling companions and as we walked along the South Rim, stopping for photos at the Bright Angel gift shop, we happened upon two adorable young sisters, seriously taking their Junior Ranger oath, given by a kind Ranger. Overhearing this, reminded me of the many times we witnessed our own daughters, taking the same oath, at the many National Parks we visited when they were young.
2018 will be my year to visit our amazing National Parks, as many as I can and some I haven’t yet made the acquaintance with. For those of you with young children, I highly recommend the National Parks, both for the beauty and uniqueness of each location and for the opportunity to proudly become Junior Rangers.
Each visitor’s center offers a wonderful way to learn about each park’s unique wildlife, vegetation, landforms and history, often explained with interactive displays and photographs. Rangers are on hand to interpret, explain and give advice about trails and, of course, to give out the “ Junior Ranger Activity Book,” that is the project for each child and involves a variety of activities. I remember when my own children completed theirs and the new books have since become a more comprehensive learning experience.
The activity book I picked up at the South Rim Visitor’s Center had activities including designing your own patch or badge for the Grand Canyon, attending a park ranger program, visiting historic Grand Canyon buildings, playing Canyon Bingo, using five senses to explore the park, making a video or drawing a picture, exploring the geology by examining a rock, drawing plants and explaining their adaptation, drawing fossils, writing a cinquain and a haiku poem, completing a wildlife detective journal, looking for animal tracks, learning about pictographs and petroglyphs, learning about Native Americans through prehistoric artifacts and filling in a story with parts of speech. Activities are assigned by age group and the last page includes the Junior Ranger Certificate, to be signed by the Park Ranger.
For a closer trip, there is an amazing park right around the corner at the King Gillette Ranch, part of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area (SMMNRA). (lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=670). The Ranch has a wonderful visitor’s center and offers Junior Ranger activities for older children, eight years and older. The visitor center is filled with learning opportunities about our Santa Monica Mountains including how the animals adapt to living so close to people, displays showing how we can help keep the environment clean, and how we can respect the animals and plants in our local mountains. (lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=6590). Activities include ranger-led walks, hiking, biking and opportunities for photography and picnicking. There is also a small gift shop with nature-themed items.
There is an abundance of parks in our local mountains and all offer unique experiences ranging from hiking to learning about native tribes that lived in these mountains hundreds of years ago. Some are beaches and overlooks, and all make excellent day trips. (lamountains.com/parks_listing.asp)
As I look back at my years as a mother to three daughters, I have many fond memories of road trips, the girls in the backseat reading, or playing travel bingo, snacks and juice boxes, stopping at interesting things along the way. We listened to country music, rock music and musical scores. One year, before going to see Les Miserables, we listed to the soundtrack non-stop on our road trip, and we went to the show knowing all the words to every song. Road trips are family time with an added bonus at the end: a State or National Park or other wilderness area. We have camped, stayed in lodges and cabins. We have cooked over a camp stove, a campfire and eaten at many cafeterias and roadside diners. I remember the years when the girls built villages out of pine needles and sticks, tried fishing in Yellowstone Lake and climbed the slippery steps to Vernal Falls in Yosemite. I remember our road trip up the coast of California to Oregon, stopping at Big Sur, Jade Beach and staying in the Redwoods. I can still see the excitement on my daughter’s faces when they saw their first grizzly bear, elk and woke up one morning to deer grazing nearby.
On our recent trip, to the Grand Canyon I watched with the same awe and joy as the sunrise colored the Canyon and the sunset lit the sky pink and orange. We were there with people from many states and countries, from all age groups and all of us were enjoying the deep canyon, the turquoise sky and posing at the edge of the canyon, as we snapped pictures of each other smiling.
There is a saying in State and National Parks to leave only footprints and take only memories. The memories are really the best treasure I have.