Evening light at Rocky Mountain National Park

Some of my first memories are of camping, or playing in the sand by a picturesque lake.  My father loved camping, and we would go nearly every weekend during the summer months outside of Spokane, often in Northern Idaho.  My parents weren’t much for hiking or fishing – I would fish occasionally, but mainly camping meant hanging out at the lake, playing in the woods, playing games and eating food out in the open.  Being the youngest in the family, I started camping early in life, and we all would sleep in one big tent. As I got older, the equipment changed from a tent trailer, to an RV and finally a fifth-wheeler parked semi-permanently in a member’s only campground with a lodge for dining and activities.

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park

I camped a few times in college, but didn’t get back into regular outdoors activities until I met my now-husband.  Some of the first activities we enjoyed together included mountain biking and skiing.  We hiked and even backpacked to the top of Mt. Whitney.  Mike’s love of the outdoors was definitely a mark in his favor, although I was head over heels in love with him anyway.
We have been sharing our love of the outdoors with our children since they were small, as well.  Andrew’s love of animals, and snakes in particular, encouraged us to take him on hikes from the time he was old enough to fit into a backpack carrier.  To this day, he is the best at spotting wildlife when we are on hikes or driving through a national park.  Brandon has become a champion Junior Ranger – he has earned at least 25 badges from all the parks we have been to.  I am happy that both of my boys are learning a love of the outdoors that we can share even when they are grown. We have been to Alaska, through California, and two summers ago hit most of the Southwest National Parks including the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. The photo at the top of my blog is from that trip, during our stop at Arches National Park.

Nymph Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Our current trip has taken us to Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas panhandle, then to Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park where we had a great time riding sand sleds and boards. Next stop was an amazing day of rafting on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista – our able guide Bear provided a running narrative on what we were seeing along the river as well as getting us through class III rapids without falling out of the boat.  The amazingly fresh and tasty lunch was a big bonus.  We are currently in Rocky Mountain National Park with its amazing mountain vistas, hiking trails, and wildlife. Hiking to the mountain lakes provides even more breathtaking scenery and our boys manage to make their way along the steep trails, and Brandon who never lacks in energy, even runs along the way.  As I sit out under the stars and marvel at the heavens, including the Milky Way, I can’t help but feel humbled by the immensity of the universe and our infinitesimally small place in it. Yet I feel my heart and soul expanding in a place like this – experiencing everything from the tiniest flower in the tundra, to the immense mountains in the distance, I feel at home.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Over the next few days we will drive across Wyoming and stop to visit friends in Centennial, then onto Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I feel blessed that we can take the time and energy to put this kind of trip together for us and our kids.  I admire my mother who managed to put together our weekly camping trips during the summer. I know it became a routine after a while, but I still appreciate all the work that goes into a camping trip. This time around both Mike and I have been coming off busy and somewhat stressful times at work, and those tensions showed in the first few days, but nature has its way of making all those cares go away.
I am keenly aware of the lack of diversity when I go to a National Park.  I know that camping and the outdoors isn’t for everybody, and frankly, our national parks are already straining under the weight of the amazing numbers of people who want to visit them.  However, even a day trip to a nearby lake or a hike on a trail within the city limits can provide a similar connection to nature. Groups like Outdoor Afro and Black Girls Run are doing what they can to get more of us outside. I can’t say enough about what getting out into nature has meant to me, and I strongly encourage all to give it a try.

At the top of the world