Outdoor Exploration: Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is everything I expected it to be — and more. There was snow! I traveled all the way from the snowy East Coast to hang out at the snowy Grand Canyon in January 2016.

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Yup. I love National Parks.

We walked around the icy South Rim to take pictures, and then headed down the road to a few overlooks. Unfortunately, due to snow and time constraints, we were only able to walk around for a few hours and not take on many trails. But I still stood on the edge of it.

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Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S. (if not the most!) and has been a big driver of park traffic this year for the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration.

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Seeing it in person is MIND-BLOWING. You’ll never know how majestic it is until you visit.

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Alexa and I at the South Rim. Thanks for taking me!!!

Until next time, Grand Canyon!

National Park Service launches #FindYourPark

Today, I’m a little more excited than usual about America’s best idea.

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Mountains in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Why? Because of the National Park Service‘s new campaign, #FindYourPark. The NPS has embraced digital media, including Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Facebook, and YouTube to create a campaign to get Americans interested in the parks, therefore encouraging everyone to find their favorite park!

This initiative is a collaboration between the Department of the Interior/the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation as a public engagement campaign focused on stirring up parks support for the NPS’s centennial celebration in 2016. Here’s more from the NPF:

The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation will team up with partners to produce programs, events, and activities that will drive broad awareness, deepen engagement, and increase support for America’s national parks, the work of the National Park Service, and its partners. In addition to making all 401 national parks go-to destinations, the campaign will highlight the historic preservation and outdoor recreation work the National Park Service does with communities across the country and the value it brings to Americans every day.

The Department of the Interior kicked off a week of events by using new live-stream app Periscope to bring NYC parks to your phone. They have also involved Michelle Obama and Bill Nye for promotions.

The NPS also has a social media campaign with the #FindYourPark hashtag, which has been used in 4,000 Instagram pictures as I write this. It’s also used on Twitter to share pictures of popular parks, but also those that may be a little less explored. This is part of a bigger push by the US government to get people involved in the outdoors. A few months ago, I blogged about the national forests doing the same thing with their #ItsAllYours campaign.

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Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

These initiatives are perfect for trying to get more people, namely kids, teenagers, and millennials, interested in parks all over the nation. Using hashtags, popular apps and social media is just the way to do this, so I’m glad to see that the NPS has embraced digital media instead of forgetting that it exists. People are bringing their phones into the parks, so we might as well accept it and try to get them to love parks through social sharing.

Flathead National Forest overlooking Glacier National Park mountains on the way to Polebridge, MT
Flathead National Forest overlooking Glacier National Park mountains on the way to Polebridge, MT

What’s my favorite park? I can’t pick, since I’ve been lucky enough to explore 15 of them. So, for this #FindYourPark, I’m gonna go with Glacier since it is in my backyard.

Want to find yours, or discover a new one? Click-through for this tool to help you find your favorite slice of America.

National Park Service wins big this week

The National Park Service had a great week.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Longs Peak
Rocky Mountain National Park – Longs Peak

They started off with the announcement of 2014 park visit numbers. A NPS press release stated:

In 2014, there were 292.8 million visits to national parks, breaking the previous record set in 1987 when parks saw just over 287.2 million visits.

Not only did 2014 break a visit record, but some parks broke records, too. On the heels of 2012 Superstorm Sandy and the 2013 government shutdown, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks saw a huge spike in visits. I’ve been to all of these parks since 2013 – and some more than once! Click on each park to see my blog posts from my visits.

The report lists the top 10 most visited places in the National Park System, which includes recreation areas and monuments, and the 10 most visited national parks. Golden Gate National Recreation Area clocked in at 15 million visitors in 2014, topping the park system side, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park topped the national parks list with 10 million visitors!

national park visitors 2014 parks system visitors 2014

After this announcement, we learned about the three new national monument designations President Obama penned, his 14th, 15th and 16th use of the Antiquities Act since taking office. OnEarth reports Obama has protected Chicago’s Pullman Park District, Hawaii’s Honouliuli Internment Camp, and 21,000 newly protected acres surrounding the Arkansas River in Colorado’s Browns Canyon.

These designations mean the land is protected under the federal government and are public lands for use to use and enjoy, much like the Washington Monument in Washington DC. The Wilderness Society does a great job of explaining what exactly these new monuments have to offer as our newest public lands:

Browns Canyon is a scenic 22,000-acre stretch of public lands along the Arkansas River in Chaffee County, between Buena Vista and Salida, Colorado. These lands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The Wilderness Society has been working to protect the natural values of the Browns Canyon landscape since the early 1970s.

The Honouliuli camp on the island of O’ahu was the last, largest and longest operating internment camp during World War II. By acknowledging past injustices, this site honors the experiences of those interned and allows us to enlighten future generations.

The historic Pullman district in Chicago honors a unique, shared legacy that is integrally connected to the push for fair labor conditions and civil rights. The community represents the first model industrial town in America.

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument from my trip in June 2014
Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument from my trip in June 2014

Lastly, the White House announced the Every Kid in a Park Initiative on Thursday, which provides a free pass for 4th graders and their families to all public lands for a year!

Hopefully, this initiative will tie in with the Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016, as well as help people understand what public lands are. If you need a refresher yourself, check out my blog post about national forests.

The National Park Service had a banner week, and it was all for good. We can send our 4th graders out into our newly designated public lands, or they can choose to enjoy the existing ones. Wherever they (and you!) decide to visit, lets all be sure to get outside!

Living by the principles of “Friluftsliv” (aka GET OUTSIDE!)

No, that’s not a typo. “Friluftsliv” is a Norwegian word for the cultural enchantment with nature and a “way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature,” according to Mother Nature Network.

Since moving out West to Montana for grad school, I have changed. I no longer feel like I should maybe go outside, and instead sit inside because it’s ridiculously cold or unbearably hot. Now, I NEED to get outside. It’s a primordial NEED to go hang out with trees on the side of the mountain, no matter the temperature or weather.

Overlook point in Kootenay
Overlook point in Kootenay

And I love it. Last year, I visited 13 National Parks in the U.S. and Canada and countless wilderness areas and national forests, driving thousands of miles to explore this great continent. In January, I hiked in the snow in Glacier National Park. In April, I scrambled up rocks in Moab, Utah. May: Yellowstone walking and Grand Teton spotting. June: summited 14ers in Colorado and hung my legs off ledges over the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. July: solo hikes in Rocky Mountain wilderness areas. September: crossed the continental divide in a snowstorm, overlooking frozen lakes in Alberta. December: desert solo hikes in Southern California.

The point of this isn’t to brag or to make anyone jealous. I’m merely trying to make the point that there are things to do outside, and I NEED to do them. And I want to take you with me.

Obligatory Delicate Arch photo!
Obligatory Delicate Arch photo!

The Huffington Post reports that hiking makes you happier and healthier. Hikers are creative: the fresh air gets our brain moving. Hiking can help heal your ailments, and get you seriously fit. We’re happy because “being out in nature, away from the business of our daily lives and technology, can allow people to connect with themselves and nature in a way that brings about peace and a sense of well-being.”

Its also good for the environment. The more time you spend outside in nature, the less time you spend at home with your lights on, TV blaring, which wastes energy. Of course, you’re burning fossil fuels when driving to a hike, but I’d like to think it balances out if you go hiking several times a week.

Don’t live in these crazy Rocky Mountain places? Search Recreation.gov or Wilderness.net to find a place near you. Take my word for it: nature is great. Go outside.