Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why We Love Junior Ranger Programs (And Think You Will Too)

I discovered last fall that I'm a little bit skeptical of our federal government.  I honestly had no idea until B & P were finishing their first National Parks Junior Ranger program and the park ranger handed them a very nice, high quality patch to commemorate their day of learning.  With all the talk of debt ceilings and excessive borrowing and financial cut-backs we hear about in the news, I was caught a little bit off-guard at the quality of a program we'd participated in for free.  We couldn't wait to visit our next park and get started on another one!

Junior Ranger programs

That first Junior Ranger program we did was at the Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico.  I'll share more about that visit in the near future, but today want to tell you the two reasons we've fallen in love with the Junior Ranger programs.

1.  I already mentioned it, they're GOOD QUALITY learning programs.  I'm sure that would be important to anyone, but as a homeschool parent I tend to be a little critical of children's educational resources.  Too many times they're full of cartoon characters or pop culture references and not a lot of learning takes place in what's left of the blank space on a page.  

Junior Ranger ProgramTo become a Junior Ranger, kids have to complete worksheets and tasks.  Both the programs we've done so far have had an option for younger and older kids.  Usually the younger kids are required to complete 3-4 pages/tasks, while the older kids maybe have to complete 5-7.  At Capulin Volcano pages included learning about how a volcano works, the geology of northern New Mexico, the flora and fauna of the area, and more.  A lot of them involve reading signs throughout the park and finding the information.  At that park they could receive an extra reward for completing the entire hike around the rim of the volcano.

Seriously, what can be better than seeing kids out in nature actively and excitedly learning about their surroundings?

Lake Mead, Junior Ranger Program
Working on their Junior Ranger at Lake Mead

2.  The Junior Ranger programs make kids feel special.  During our trip to Lake Mead last month, we stopped into the visitor's center to pick up our Junior Ranger books.  The retired volunteer park ranger almost jumped out of his skin with enthusiasm.  Both times we've done the program the rangers have given full attention to our boys while they explained the program and the requirements and got them excited for a day of learning.  

Why does it seem like adults don't do that anymore...make time for kids?  Such a spirit-lifting experience for me to have someone else telling my kids how cool science and the outdoors can be! That volunteer ranger answered every single one of their questions and quizzed them and made sure they had not taken it lightly.  B & P just ate it up!  

So what happens when kids have completed their activities and worksheets?  The ranger administers the Junior Park Ranger pledge.  Each kid repeats something like this, 

"As a Junior Ranger, I promise to teach others about what I learned today, 
explore other parks and historic sites, 
and help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them."

Then they receive their badge and their patches and go on their merry little way...


Do you have Junior Rangers at home?
Which park programs have been your favorite?

More information:
Junior Ranger programs are available at
200+ national parks.

The program is free to participate-just ask a ranger at the park visitor center for information.

Many of the booklets and other information are available online
and are great resources for homeschool unit studies.

Your local state parks may have junior ranger programs as well.  
Ask the next time you're there!

Monday, April 20, 2015

4 Out-of-the-Way National Parks Worth Visiting (And a Bonus)

We're three days in to National Park Service week and today I want to share again 4 of the National Parks I've loved spending time in over the years.  2 are in Alaska, one in NM, and one that everybody has heard of but I don't think always get too into to "deep".  And when you get to the end, I've thrown in a bonus just for fun.  Here we go...

1. Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park has got to be about as far "out-of-the" way as you can get.  A 7-day cruise, a 4-day overland drive, or 6-hour flight just to get to Alaska, and then a 4-hour drive or 6-hour train ride before you're finally there.  But I promise you, 100% worth the time!  Read more about Denali National Park here.

2. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Wrangell-St. Elias is the United States' largest national park, covering 13.2 million acres.  The mountains are vast, the forests are thick, the coastline laps up on to it, and a volcano puffs regularly to remind everyone in it's sight that true wilderness can be find here.  Nestled in the middle of it all is the historic Kennecott  Mine site.  The drive there takes you back 100 years and a day there will leave you in awe of what the early Alaskan miners accomplished so far out in the middle of nowhere.  Read more about Kennecott  Mine here.

3. White Sands National Monument

Over the years, we have found the state of New Mexico to be a treasure trove of amazing and beautiful landscape and activity.  But you have to be willing to drive!  White Sands National Monument, with it's mounds of sand rolling away from you as far as the eye can see, and complete silence and solitude make it worth the 4-hour drive south of Albuquerque and we do it time and time again.  Find out why we love White Sands National Monument here.

4.  The Grand Canyon

Everyone, of course, has heard of the Grand Canyon, and dreams of going there one day.  Technically, it does fit the bill of being out-of-the-way and figuratively I'm pleading with you to go out-of-the-way when you get there.  The Grand Canyon is SO MUCH MORE than just walking around the rim or stepping out on to the glass-bottomed overlook.  Picking one of dozens of trails and going down into the canyon will open up a whole new world, an ancient world, that a person can't explain until they've been down in there.  Read more about our hike down into the Grand Canyon here.

Those are 4 of our favorite out-of-the-way National Parks and Monuments.  And, now, the bonus, because it's one we love that's close to home...

Bonus: Golden Spike National Historic Site

No doubt, the Golden Spike National Historic Site is as far out-of-the-way as you can get in Northern Utah.  You will be in the middle of nowhere, and will be able to feel like you're part of history as they re-enact the final connection of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Read more about the Golden Spike here.

That's our list, no we want to hear:
What is your favorite Out-of-the-Way National Park worth visiting?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

National Park Service Week

National Park Service Week begins Saturday, and I'm excited to share about my favorite Natiional Park experiences starting Monday.  Today, though, as an introduction, I've updated a post from several years ago that still rings true to me today...

The movie "Field of Dreams" prophetically professed,

"If you build it, he will come."

 As I reflect on trips and experiences I've had in America's national parks, it seems like the same could also be said for those places;

"If you designate it [a national park], they will come."

We live in a busy world where we don't always take the time we should to stop and focus on the beauty of the place we live in.  And yet our national parks are overflowing with visitors each year.  Offering something for every type of person, from visitor center exhibits and videos to multi-day and multi-sport back-country adventures, they draw us in with the allure of grandeur and tranquility.

Nearly 80% of the state I live in, Utah, is designated in one way or another as public lands.  Year after year the controversy brews over the fairness and necessity of the government controlling where and how we live within our own borders.  Oftentimes the blame gets put on the lawmakers and other officials "back east" who have never been here.  Would they be so quick to sign the dotted line of a land deed if 80% of their state were to be taken away (seriously, Rhode Island/Connecticut/Delaware, think what that would mean). 

While I do agree in many ways that states themselves should control their resources (yes, land is a precious resource), I am also grateful for the places near me which are protected from development and urban sprawl.  With 5 national parks and many other BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or other legally protected sites, in Utah I have been spoiled by the ease in which I can walk out my door and escape reality to peacefully wander away from it all.  I'm grateful, too, thinking of all the similarly designated sites in places I've lived or visited all across the United States.  

Several of my favorite examples are:

My hope is that every citizen of this great country takes the time occasionally to step away from the daily grind, slow down, and truly appreciate the gift of nature and preservation we've been guaranteed through the national park system.  

Tell me about your favorite national park experience!

*Updated post originally shared in March 2013*

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