My son Paul and I enjoy visiting national parks. Over spring break, we examined tide pools and hiked a number of trails in Redwoods National Park. In John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, we visited important fossil sites and their awesome museum, where we learned loads about the mammal fossil record. We also tried cross-country skiing at Crater Lake National Park, but a raging snowstorm defeated our efforts. Blowing snow really stings your eyes, and who packs ski goggles for cross-country skiing? We left pretty quickly.
We love the national parks for a number of reasons. First of all, they include some of our country's most amazing landscapes. Olympic's rainforests - Redwoods' trees - Grand Canyon's canyon.
But they've also provided us with some of our best memories and craziest stories. At Zion National Park, Paul and I found ourselves traversing the side of a 1500 foot high cliff, holding onto a chain that was nailed into the cliff wall... along with a hundred other people. I couldn't believe I was doing this with my seven-year-old. I couldn't believe a couple hundred other people were also doing this. When we finished, I had to lay on the ground for several minutes to recover. Paul asked if we could do Angel's Landing next (a longer and crazier version of the hike we'd just completed). I might have fainted. "Challenging" hike means something different in rock climbing country than it does in northern Idaho.
In Grand Canyon, we biked the 20+ miles along the south rim, racing past everyone on the bus. We hiked down the canyon into the rain and ran past all of the nonhikers on the way back out. Paul kept pretending to throw himself off the rim, and again I had to fight a heart attack. Memories? The best.
Every park or monument we've been to offers a junior ranger program. Every program is different but they generally required kids to do a hike, learn about and spot the local flora and fauna, and watch the park's film or attend a ranger program. When we saw our first lizard in Zion, Paul was amazed. He'd thought lizards were pets. He couldn't believe they were wild animals. And then we saw several dozen more, and he started complaining that they were everywhere. Kids. Sheesh.
GREAT CONVERSATIONS; TOUGH CONVERSATIONS
Lastly, our trips, which involve hours (or days!) in the car, include lots of audiobooks. Paul picks out a couple, and I pick out several. I choose stories that he might not choose on his own, ones that I not only know we will both enjoy but ones that will engender conversation. We listen to spooky stories like The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud and talk about reality versus unreality. We listen to nonfiction like Martin Russell's The Mysteries of Beethoven's Hair and talk about the "historical backstory"... about why things happen and how society has (or hasn't) changed. We listen to fun stories such as I'd Tell You I Love You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter and imagine ourselves in the best parts... with our fabulous spy gear. We listen to lots of realistic fiction so we can talk about tough subjects. Over the years, we've talked about family death, abuse, 9-11, foster care, and mental illness.
Just this week, one of our "tough conversations" from spring break came in handy. Candy Gourley's Tall Story includes a minor part where the town "witch's" daughter dies of rabies. We talked quite a bit about wild animals, rabies, access to medical treatment, and dangers of the disease. Who knew that conversation would come in handy this week when one of our dogs actually bit a neighbor? They bite broke the skin. Luckily, it wasn't a bad wound, and our dog's shots were up-to-date. But the pre-conversation allowed us the chance to talk about others' fear of dogs, our responsibilities as dog-owners, and how to best care for relationships with our friends and neighbors.
In addition to the car trip audiobooks, we research the places we plan to visit. The library has kids' titles on several of our nearest national parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton. We also have kids' and adult guides to national parks as a whole.
In 1872, Theodore Roosevelt designated Yellowstone as the nation's first national park; the national park system was established in 1916. Today, the United States and our territories include 59 national parks and numerous historical parks, monuments, seashores, reserves, and more. Idaho boasts three national parks and reserves: Craters of the Moon, Hagerman Fossil Beds, and City of Rocks. National parks within a day's drive include Olympic, North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. Glacier National Park is a mere four hours from Sandpoint. And ALL fourth graders are entitled to a FREE family pass... for their entire fourth-grade year.
Plan a car trip, check out some audiobooks, and visit one of our national treasures!
Suzanne Davis, Children's Librarian