Park Number 48? 49?

23BF1FAF-1DD8-B71B-0BE8534099FBC16B
Courtesy of NPS

Since I completed my national park road trip in June of 2017, I haven’t been aggressively keeping up with news regarding our nation’s park service. To be honest, most of my energy has been upward and onward, focusing on outdoor education and travels abroad. It was to my great surprise when I realized that America now officially has 61 national parks, 49 of which are in the contiguous United States.

If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you’ll recall that I successfully attempted to visit 47 parks in 47 weeks, launching this blog as a way for readers to follow my journey. Since the consummation of this trip, I have continued my pilgrimage to other fantastic outdoor areas, places as close as five miles from my house (Backyard Magic) as far as the other side of the globe (South Africa).

When Gateway Arch and Indiana Dunes cropped up on my radar, I figured it was time to pay a special tribute to them, honoring their place among the greats and determining a potential visit in the near future.

604D84A7-1DD8-B71B-0BC494D6703273E0
The picturesque view of the Arch (from the National Park site)

Gateway Arch National Park

  • Status changed from Memorial to Park on February 22, 2018
  • Located in St Louis, Missouri
  • My thoughts
    • This looks like a very nature-less park. The arch and related museum appear to be the big-ticket items. I’m interested in checking this off the list, but probably won’t make a trip out here just to spend a day indoors
park2
Brand new park! Congratulations.

Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Status changed from Lakeshore to Park on February 15, 2019
  • Located in Porter, Indiana, along Lake Michigan and east of Chicago
  • My thoughts
    • This area looks quite pretty, and probably would be a fun three-day visit in warmer weather. I drove right through this area on my way from Voyageurs to Cuyahoga towards the end of my national park circuit.

 

Looks like I need to plan another mini-adventure! My passport is in dire need of stamps from the Midwest.

* If you’ve visited either of these places and would like to contribute your thoughts, please leave a comment.

Advertisements

Chasing Waterfalls

3 20190101_113728

Hiking is so much better without the crowds…

…and when running water is involved.

A recent Shenandoah hike, Whiteoak Canyon, was the perfect trail to start the New Year. No resolution needed, simply a desire to get outside and check out some nearby wilderness that I hadn’t experienced during my previous foray into the park.

I pulled off the Blueridge Parkway and set out into the crisp winter air. This particular trail followed the Robinson River the whole way, ending at the top of a series of waterfalls. I admired the flowing water that cascaded beside me, tumbling over rocks, under fallen logs, and around natural curvatures in the land. When I stopped to regard the landscape, a tiny field mouse crept right up to my hiking boot, sniffing the air. No “stranger-danger” alarms must have gone off in his little mouse-brain; he proceeded to munch on fallen seeds, ignoring my presence while bustling around. I felt like a Disney princess.

 

 

Continuing on, the river began to gain in both speed and volume. My knees weren’t used to the downward tilt of the land, and I was reminded of how long it had been since I’d done any mildly strenuous hike. Too long, I decided.

Downward I went, stopping at one point to creep out onto a rock that made me feel like I was in the middle of the rushing river. The surrounding mountains formed a chute, ready to careen me forward to be launched into the air. I noticed Old Rag Mountain off in the distance, a steady presence on the eastern Shenandoah landscape.

20190101_122922 1
Serenity now

Then I saw the waterfall.

It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring one I had ever seen, but it was still gorgeous. I noted the way the water flowed in and around. All waterfalls are special in their own way, unique in how the H20 molecules fall alongside of rock, dirt, and organic debris – shaped by the landscape but also shaping it. This particular one looked like a water slide, which I briefly considered attempting. Nope. Frigid water and bruises wouldn’t be worth it.

At this point, the trail continued down for many more miles, so I had a quick snack before turning around to come back up. Then, just for fun, I decided to walk down a couple more yards to see what else was around. Little did I know that I almost completely missed the fantastic viewpoint! I was so caught up in my little patch of earth near the falls, that I failed to recognize that I was only partway down the flow of water. Perhaps I was too content to settle for a sub-par experiences. With a teensy bit more effort on my part, there was much more to see.

3 20190101_124405
The actual waterfall viewpoint. Hard to put into perspective, but it’s sizable.

I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.

The hike back up was was peaceful. I let my mind wander and relished the crunch of the rocks under my hiking boots, the sound of birds floating through the trees. Two red-tail hawks swooped in close and I was caught off guard for a glorious moment. At the end, I savored the keen sense of satisfaction I felt upon completing this 5 mile hike.

I got in my car, drove a mile down the road, and did another one – just for fun. 🙂

20190101_150852 1
Hawskbill Summit (hike #2 of the day)

Back to Where it All Began

20190101_145529 1

It was cold and crisp. I could see my breath wafting into the atmosphere as I stood and relished the sight. The hand warmers in my mittens were keeping my fingers nice and toasty, my wool socks protecting my toes from the sub-freezing temperatures. I scanned the horizon, noting astute differences from when I was here last. The grass was dried out, taking on an interesting orangey hue. The trees were gnarly, lacking their summer greenery, and stood out against the Blue Ridge Mountains. The chain across the road into the visitor’s center signaled that things were closed up due to the government shut-down.

This was Big Meadows. This is where it all began.

20190101_140322 1

Over two and a half years ago, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I resigned from my job teaching, bought a teardrop trailer, and decided to visit all of the national parks in the lower 48 states.

I did it. I spent months at a time on the road, enjoying the gems of our country. It was an experience so profound that I could never possibly forget the joy I discovered throughout my park pilgrimage.

That is why, on January 1, 2019, I decided to pay homage to the first park on my series: Shenandoah. A mini park adventure to beat the winter doldrums was also a perfect way to begin the new year. I drove slowly along the Blue Ridge Parkway, reminiscing of Clarence (my trailer/home) and how I eagerly set up camp for the first time in Big Meadows. I was reminded of the blend of excitement and anxiety I felt back in July 2016 as I began my epic journey, not sure how it would all pan out. Never could I have imagined how much fun I would have over the course of the next year, learning how to navigate an extra 550 lbs attached to my car, hiking in all kinds of weather, and managing a (somewhat) healthy diet.

20190102_094255 1

Fast-forward to present day.

It was colder now, and the landscape looked vastly different. Birds circled overhead, as I sat in silence, leaning against my car eating a picnic lunch. So much has changed in my life, yet many things remain the same.

My love of nature.

My belief that America’s parks are public lands for the people.

My understanding of the simple beauty found outside.

My appreciation for Shenandoah, the park that started it all.

Sometimes the places that are closest to home don’t quite get the appreciation they deserve. Although Shenandoah is my “backyard” park, I chose to recognize its allure by driving its length and exploring its depths.

Shenandoah, I salute you.

Looking Up

20160913_101357 1
The Badlands: Storm’s a-brewin’ (Fall 2016)

Looking up.

Aggressive sunrises,

Dappled clouds.

Hypnotic blues, grays, and in-betweens.

Sunsets that steal the show,

A finale that receives accolades

and encores.

While stars creep in, a vast party that

Pulses with old light

Eyes search out for splendor,

Sky that grounds me.

20160920_135549 1
Grand Tetons: Wispy clouds (Fall 2016)

Throughout my travels, both national and abroad, I have always made a point to look up. Depending on weather patterns, the time of day, and other factors that I might pretend to understand, the sky can be pretty darn fascinating. It remains an adjusting constant that gently pulls my attention from the goings-on at ground-level. Whether city or country, mountains or beach, day or night, I have always enjoyed the limitlessness that the atmosphere has to offer, unhindered by grids or grounds.

Great Sand Dunes (2)
Great Sand Dunes: A delightful sunset (Summer 2016)

Lately, the winter weather has put a damper on my spirits, weighing me down with an in-between grogginess. A white blanket of snow would be fantastic! Or perhaps a warm, balmy day? Instead, it seems that the chilly rain and foggy haze is intent on putting a pause on outdoor adventures. Yet even on the “worst” of days, I can go outside, in the middle of suburbia, and spot a big, round, full moon that seems to smile back at me. I can spot a sunrise orb peeking out in between buildings, ready to warm up my earth for a little that day. I can watch cirrus clouds wisp through the air, waving as they cascade across my viewpoint.

2 20180815_150814
Antigua, Guatemala (Summer 2018)

Yes, the sky is quite phenomenal, a pleasant reminder of the beautiful and ever-changing world.

Looking up has its advantages.

You should try it more often.

The Gunks

20181014_094912

The weather cools down and the leaves crisp up, signaling that autumn is moving in with a vengeance. This time of year is a melange of outdoor senses, an awakening of newness despite the cycle of death urged on by winter’s approach.

It’s also prime climbing season.

With a friend who knows how to fly, escaping to a top-notch rock climbing destination couldn’t be easier. And so that is how I found myself at the base of a climb in the Shawangunks – an immense bedrock ridge within the great state of New York. The rainy morning set things back, but before long the sun came up signaling that it was time to ascend.

 

44115360_295045231318848_25401299876970496_n
Only 2 more pitches to go!

 

I climbed steadily, placing tiny pieces of metal into cracks and crevices, hoping that they would catch me in the off-chance that I fell. It was easy movement, and delightful views. I didn’t have to remind myself to stop and take in the scenery – once I escaped the tree line, I couldn’t help but pause regularly to appreciate the exposure. Things not only look different from up high, they smell and feel different as well. High places are a remedy for the suburban blues and an excellent way to reset one’s mental capacity.

20181014_095625
A tiny cam

Despite the energy needed to climb upwards, I am consistently surprised at the respite I find during my favorite outdoor hobby. There is peace in the natural world, one that never ceases to amaze me. Climbing allows me to access a whole new position and perspective in this natural world.

Before all the leaves drop and before the winter winds lay claim to the land, find a place to go that will reset and invigorate your spirit. Even if the mountains aren’t calling you, you can still go.

It’s worth it.

43599508_295045061318865_5847034301996072960_n
Taking a moment to celebrate.

 

 

Outdoor Discovery: A Poem and a Scene

blowing-child-cute-790

A teacher lies in a field.

A host of colorful rain jackets litter the grass like petals.

Students join the adventure,

Backs to dirt, watching raindrops cascade down from a gray sky.

 

I enjoy being an educator, but there are some days where I simply love my job and the opportunities it affords to explore outside. Muddy Mondays are a regular occurrence at my school, but this past one takes the cake when it comes to the downright fun-factor.

The blurry edge of the Hurricane Florence system meant that there had been a steady on-an-off again drizzle of rain throughout the day. Us teachers were not deterred – our regular outdoor education plans would take a backseat as we simply moved on to Plan B and led our young charges in discovery play. I geared up, eager to be outside and to model how to interact with the outdoor environment during seemingly “icky” weather.

boy-child-denim-jeans-1024496

The trust was evident as the kiddos trailed me out into our field and joined me in our opening activity. Traditionally referred to as “sit spots”, I chose to lay down and face the rain. The others followed suit.

“Look at all the different shades in the sky,” one student pointed out.

“This rain feels really misty, not like it normally does,” another student quipped.

One girl rolled on to her belly to watch the effect the rain had as it hit the thick and sturdy crag grass. These students and I sat in silence (or quietness) for almost 10 minutes. We watched, we questioned, we got wet, and we definitely got muddy. It was peaceful, it was invigorating, it was a fabulous outdoor education lesson wherein I let nature speak for itself.

after-the-rain-dew-droplets-1078984

The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind of fun activities. I accompanied of a group to the water run-off on our property, noting how the plants in that area were “hardy” (a students’ words, not mine) and used to dealing with lots of water. Kids took turns jumping over the mini-stream and moving rocks to temporarily stop it’s flow. I took a break and helped a pair of students prop a big stick onto a tree to create the framework of a budding fort. On the far side of the yard, another group eagerly began mixing mud concoctions, trying to find the “just-right consistency” for their imaginative pretend-edible creations.

blond-break-child-6123

We explored until the end of the day before heading inside to gather our things. Mud was streaked on stairwells, doorknobs, and faces. My shirt was soaked through, and many students joyfully commented on my drowned appearance due to flat, damp hair.

Critics may emphasize the fact that there was no formal lesson. For those of us who were there, the depth of learning was so very evident. Underneath the exuberant play, was a rich layer of deep thinking. There was risk-taking, hands-on discovery, and lots of wondering.

Perhaps it should rain some more on Mondays.

 

Rewilding the American Child

I was in the checkout line at REI, waiting to purchase some (much-needed?) gear when I spotted the most recent Outside magazine.

1244

The title alone captured my interest, so I grabbed a copy and began reading it at stop lights on the ride home. The aforementioned article – a collection of thought-provoking essays – was not necessarily new information for me, but I found it both timely and challenging. The more I read, the more I was encouraged that an exceptional magazine would dedicate so many pages to this growing problem of indoor kids. And while I have been well-acquainted with this situation for quite some time, it has only recently begun to be addressed by the general American public.

back-back-view-beautiful-1368213

The bottom line? Kids need to get outside more. Kids need the freedom to roam, to play, to get messy, to sometimes fall, and to fall in love with nature. As a teacher, outdoor education is near and dear to my heart; I consider myself blessed to work at a school that promotes outside learning as well as unstructured play. In a country where the average kid spends 4-7 minutes a day engaged in outdoor free-choice leisure, it’s time that all adults begin considering how to address this growing widespread problem.

And it is a problem. Research shows that being out-of-doors has many positive impacts on both or physical and mental health. Conversely, being inside all of the time has been linked to greater stress, anxiety, obesity, and shorter attention spans.

boots-child-colorful-668355

It’s part of our nature to be in a natural environment, and it’s up to us (the adults) to show the next generation what a healthy connection to the outside world looks like. Yes, there are many programs and non-profits that are doing an excellent job getting kids in nature, but for this big chance to happen, it’ll take a shift within our Western culture and a conscious effort from all of us. As Outside magazine so eloquently writes: “It’s time to make childhood an adventure again.” Let’s make it happen!

alone-boy-child-1051321

“Kids deserve the chance to explore nature without an agenda or chaperone, to take risks and learn to get themselves out of trouble, to fall in love with nature so they become stewards of the earth.” – Outside September 2018

Want more info?

Last Child in the Woods book

Washington Post article