A Move to Remember

May 2002

When we left Colorado in 2002 to move to Monterey Bay, CA my parents took us on a roundabout trip. The first stop we made was to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument (a couple years before it officially became a National Park). As a middle school student in Colorado we learned about some of the geological areas in the state and how unique they are, so I couldn’t wait to visit the dunes. I remember we parked the car mid morning along the side of the road because the park was so busy, I don’t even remember there being a parking lot, but that could have been 11 year old me not paying attention to driving conditions. We all piled out of the car to see the dunes. We climbed up the mountainous dunes with the dog, got about halfway up, ran back down, and then left to continue our journey.

I knew the next place we could stop was Mesa Verde National Park in Southwestern Colorado. I was so excited to see the Ancestral Puebloan city that I learned about in my 6th grade social studies class. I was ready to see the abandoned places carved and constructed into the sides of the mountains. I saw the exit coming up and excitedly told my dad who was driving that we would reach the turn soon, and then I saw us go past the exit. I alerted him that he had missed the exit and he said, “Whoops.” But we did not turn around, we kept driving to our hotel near the Four Corners area.

Now as an adult who has gone on many road trips I understand that at 5pm after a full day of driving and a stop for hiking, that with up to two hours left to drive, my father was not about to stop that car so I could see the cliff dwellings. As an 11 year old who was very excited to see a National Park that had so much to do with history and the story of the Ancestral Pueblo people who helped shape the American Southwest, I was very disappointed. I would not have the honor of seeing the remains of this ancient civilization for nearly 20 years.

The Four Corners Monument

Alas, with the disappointment in my heart from having to bypass Mesa Verde National Park, we went on and made our way to the Four Corners where I placed one appendage in four states at once. After our brief foray to the Four Corners we drove to Grand Canyon National Park. I remember going through the ranger checkpoint at the entrance of the park and thinking that it wasn’t very impressive, it looked like a scrub forest, but we hadn’t seen the canyon yet. Our first stop was at the Desert View Watchtower. As a child I was excited to be able to climb up to the top of the tower. We saw the canyon, but I was not moved or concerned with the splendor that is the Grand Canyon. We then went to the Bright Angel Trail and walked partway into the canyon. There was a park ranger standing near a ledge and perched on it was a very large bird, the ranger was excitedly telling us that it was a California Condor the largest bird in North America and critically endangered, we were able to see it perched on a cliff close up and not far off in the distance in flight. Of all the things we saw in the park that day, seeing the California Condor was by far the memory that replays in my mind as if it was yesterday.

As we left the Grand Canyon I still did not fully appreciate the absolute privilege it was to have seen it’s unparalleled beauty, but I know that I will be forever grateful to my parents for taking me to this National Park. When we arrived in Monterey Bay a few days later we were thrust into a completely different world.

How was your first visit to the Grand Canyon?

Highway 1 north of Monterey

I Don’t Like Dirt

For someone who loves to venture into National Parks and loves to go hiking, I hate dirt. I don’t like sand. I don’t like to feel dirty. I don’t like bad smells. One has to wonder how I even survive on multi day camping trips in the summertime.

Here is how I think that I survive:

  • Dry Shampoo – highly recommend for an extended camping trip
    • The first time I ever used dry shampoo was during a stop at Death Valley National Park. I hadn’t showered in two days. I thought that it would be a good idea to try dry shampoo for the first time. Needless to say it did not work out, even after I dunked my head under a water spigot, which was very ill advised, I still had sand imbedded in my scalp four days later.
    • The most recent time I used it, I was in Crater Lake three years after the first attempt, I knew what to do. My hair ended up looking at least halfway presentable and there was no need for a dunk in a sink.
  • Body Wipes – I use a lavender scented type from Amazon
    • These are incredible! My favorite are the kind that are individually packaged because I can just throw one in any pack to use just in case its needed
    • I think I’d prefer something that has a biodegradable package for the environmental impact, but what I’ve seen so far is while the wipes can be biodegradable, it seems the packaging can’t. I usually buy a large pack that I can use at camp and use the individual packages sparingly on the go.
  • Finally – bathroom wipes (also usually ordered from Amazon)
    • These are much like the body wipes, but for a more specific purpose. I think this is self explanatory, so I don’t have much to say about these products, except that I can’t live, hike, or camp without them

The best shower I ever had, that I can vividly remember at least, was at the Grand Canyon National Park. I hadn’t showered in over a week and had been hiking and road-tripping, not taking anything with ease and I certainly didn’t smell very nice, I’m sure. After driving into the park from the East Entrance I made camp and then made my way over to the laundromat and showers at the Mather Campground area.

I put in a load of laundry and waited patiently behind a large group of other campers for a shower to open up. Someone vacated and I jumped into the shower stall, armed with $8.00 in quarters. It was $2.00 for 4 minutes of hot water, I was prepared to savor my 16 minute shower, but I was in for an unexpected surprise. I put in my first $2.00 of quarters and embarked on the shower of a lifetime, the water did not turn off after 4 minutes, after 8 minutes, and then after 25 minutes I had to decide to turn the water off. After almost a week of Joshua Tree and Death Valley sand in my hair I was able to finally feel that my scalp was clean, the grime of the past week was washed away at Mather Campground.

After my shower I even got to help another hiker out when she asked me if there were any “broken” showers. I looked at her with some confusion wondering why anyone would want a broken shower, she gave me a knowing look and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “you know? The ones where you don’t have to reload quarters.” I was able to point her in the right direction so she could enjoy the bliss of an uninterrupted stream of water after a long day of hiking and exploring.

A Backstory

During my childhood I moved around the United States and the world with my family as my father was in the military. It afforded me the chance to see so many places that my peers haven’t had an opportunity to visit, but while I was a child I didn’t fully understand what the impact on me would be of seeing some of the most beautiful places in our country and in the world. Now when I talk to my friends and new acquaintances I will casually mention the time in middle school when I lived in a village at the base of the German Alps or when I went on a weekend trip to London to celebrate my 17th birthday, but what has seemed to have a deeper impact on my passion for exploring are the memories I have of experiencing nature. 

Being outdoorsy is not how I would describe myself, but over time I’ve found a deeper understanding of what I enjoy in life and it’s to be outside in nature. My first memories of going camping are from when I was just four or five years old and living in upstate New York. My parents took the whole family, of which there were just three of us and the dog, to a park to go camping, but there were no campsites available except on an island that they had to canoe to, so we were seemingly the only people on the island. All I remember is having to try to use the outhouse and go potty outside (YIKES!) and then the time we went and it rained the entire time, which was miserable. I remember camping in Georgia and Colorado, it seems that some of my camping memories are the clearest for me. I should have known sooner that these would be defining experiences.

First Foray Into A National Park

September 2000 – Rocky Mountain National Park

When we moved to Colorado Springs, CO, I think I can say that this is when my love for hiking, mountains, and natural places was born. As a child I was heavily involved with extra curricular sports, I played soccer and swam competitively, so usually on the weekends I was at some game or meet that occupied my time. If my family wasn’t traipsing around the state with my sporting events, we were following my younger brother Brett around with his hockey schedule. But the best weekends were when we went hiking as a family. We explored Pike’s Peak and the Garden of the Gods, and my favorite place became Palmer Park where we would sometimes go just to scrabble over the rocks and play make believe in the natural formations.

While we were living in Colorado I visited my first National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park in September of 2000. Just north of Denver its the location where you can see the tallest peak in the state, Long’s Peak. Now thinking back I don’t remember much of my experience, but what I do remember has stayed with me and with my family. Whenever we discuss wildlife encounters, the story of Rocky Mountain National Park is recounted. We were on a nature walk in the park, there were many other visitors on the path with us and we were able to see a large elk herd. The elk were along the river edge in a meadow, there were many females and one lone male. Suddenly the male began to spray, and as a child with an obsession with nature documentaries, I figured that the male was marking his territory and telling other elk that these lady elk belonged to him. In the distance we saw a bull moose come running in our direction and then past us. We kept walking down the trail and saw the moose was up ahead, and with the bull moose was a female and another larger bull. My family and the other visitors were getting closer to the three animals to get a better look, but 9 year old me had seen a documentary where it discussed moose and their aggression and ever the rule follower, I was not about to get closer to the two bulls who may begin sparring over the female. I left my family behind and kept walking further down the trail away from the massive animals. My mother always recalls the moment when she turned around to check on me and realized that I was nowhere near the rest of the family, that I had walked a solid 100 yards away from their location. She laughs now as she thinks about the fact that I was “scared,” but I maintain that I was being smart and respecting the wildlife, now I was probably much further away than I realistically needed to be to be safe, but as a 9 year old I was much smaller than I am now. 

The rest of the trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is a blur to me. According to my parents we spent the weekend exploring the park and the surrounding area going on multiple hikes and enjoying the vistas, but 20 years later and all I can recall is my first encounter with the wildlife in the park. I think maybe that I choose the wrong major in college, not that I didn’t love to study theatre in school, but as I’ve aged I remember how much I love learning about the wild creatures of our world and seeing them in their natural habitat is an unparalleled experience. Perhaps I should have pursued a scientific career (perhaps I’ll make a career change and embark on a journey of zoological studies). 

The remainder of our time living in Colorado was made up of exploring state parks, skiing, and camping in a National Forest. I received an ingrained love of hiking that would come back to inspire me.

Anyone have any fun memories of their first National Park experience?