Friday, August 12, 2011

Roughin' It

I finally got to take a vacation--I can be a workaholic if I let myself. So after my boss told me I needed a vacation I dug my heels in. I have felt the need lately to be surrounded by redwoods, needing the earthy smell of dirt and wildflowers and the soft sounds of pine needles in the afternoon breeze. So I booked us (everything is ONLINE!) three nights in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Only 3.5 hours from our house, there is really no excuse not to visit more often.

Al and I knew it would be an interesting trip because this was the first time Alyssa would be sleeping in a sleeping bag, not in a playpen. The girls were so excited that first night.  Alyssa was jumping from air mattress to air mattress. And she did cry and it took us 1.5 to 2 hours to get her back to sleep. She was scared of the dark and the forest noises. But I pulled her air mattress next to mine and held her hand until she fell asleep. When she woke up she felt like a big girl for surviving the night.

Al and I haven't been to this park since 2000 and it feels like a lot has changed. I've never stayed in Sequoia, always in Kings Canyon, so this was a new experience for me as well.

General Sherman Tree
We took only two hikes while there, but there is a lot of driving involved since the roads are slow, windy, and most are undergoing some kind of repair. Plus the kids aren't used to hiking so some of the climbing seemed too much for them. We hiked to General Sherman, the world's largest tree, and the Big Trees trail, which is a loop around a meadow surrounded by Giant Sequoia trees. In the five or so times I've been to the park, the Big Trees trail has to be the most amazing trail I've ever taken. It was self-guided and was filled with the ecology of the Sequoia trees. They are truly beautiful and amazing.

Big Trees Trail

We always visit the Visitor's Center in any NP, but this time I asked about the Junior Ranger Program. Kevin and I did that at Zion NP when we were kids. It is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We spent a week in "classes" with a Park Ranger learning about the environment, animals, plants, etc. at Zion. We were so proud of our earned badges. So when we were at Sequoia I asked about the JR Program. Samantha picked up a booklet and she completed her jobs to earn her badge.

Samantha had to take a hike and tell what she learned. She had to show what is right and wrong about park behavior, i.e., we don't feed bears, dogs are always on a leash, and we don't scratch our initials on trees. She also had to tell what things she'd seen. Her final task was to collect garbage around her campground or on a trail and bring it to the park ranger. She was so excited.

As we were leaving we stopped at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center and she turned in her booklet. She raised her right hand and promised to protect the park, to continue to learn about the park and all other national parks, and to teach others about the park. She got her badge and proudly wore it all the way home.

On the way home she said she wanted to live in Sequoia like the other park rangers when she grows up. Ah, a beautiful dream--I used to share the same one and still do, sometimes. I think it would be an awesome retirement to be a Park Ranger.

The girls were sad to come home, but considering how successful this trip was I am sure we'll be going back really soon.

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