Every park I have visited has something different about it, a different effect, a different appeal. It’s not just trees and plants and bugs and stuff. I mean, it can be if you don’t make the effort to connect with your surroundings. I walk away with a unique experience each time and I love the challenge of self-reflection and solitude.
As Latinos we just didn’t camp growing up, it’s not a thing we do. We went to the beach on weekends and we road tripped and usually the road trip was from the city to a beach resort. But camping in the woods or hiking just isn’t something my parents ever considered. I can’t even imagine my parents in a tent or a log cabin.
For my family that wasn’t a vacation. I attribute this lack of interest to the fact that they came from rural upbringings and going back to that type of environment didn’t align with their ideals of success and achievement, much of which they found as adults in the United States. This new-found lifestyle was a symbol of achievement and how they spent their free time was an extension of the same.
Looking at the scene of national parks, marketing images, and media profiles, we don’t really see our community represented, and as I have said before, without representation in media it’s hard to convince members of our community that this is something that would appeal to us as well. We’ve all had that conversation: “Oh, that’s something they do, not us.” And it took my white husband to convince me that it was something worth considering.
Yellowstone National Park was our first major trip and I realize that though I had limited my love for the outdoors to the environment that influenced my youth (such as the beaches of the Caribbean), I had a natural desire to want to explore and embrace this type of natural scenery and experience. Our trip to that area of the country was the first time I had ever seen the Rocky Mountains, and I was like a child in complete awe. “How did I get to be this old and never experience this before?” I asked myself.
Boys learn about campfire and camping for the first time in Yellowstone.
My very first camping in a national park experience happened in the summer of 2009, in Yellowstone. This national park experience changed my life.
Redwood National Park was one of our experiences this summer and I was in complete awe of the trees…again, something I had never seen before. Tall, proud, larger than life. I felt so tiny, so small.
Yosemite National Park was humbling in its grandeur. Standing at the bottom of those tall mountains, swimming in the cold lake waters, hiking tall cliffs with my children. I was in it, but I was not in control and certainly not in command. Nature ruled here, I was just its guest. The sunsets here were also some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life.
Olympic National Park, my most recent park, was my first visit with girlfriends. That experience was incredible and different, spiritual and uplifting in a way that was unique and new. From the rainforest to the coastal forest, it’s hard to escape the mystifying effects that nature can have on the soul.
Five years after my very first visit to a national park and I am hooked. Camping, hiking, and nature excursions are some of my favorite pass times and vacation experiences. I am proud to be passing on the love of nature to my children. Chelle, Ana, Crystal, and I set out to bring fun, energy, diversity, and awareness to the Olympic National Park. A double rainbow over Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, courtesy of a tour with Lake Crescent Lodge GM Todd Gubler.
Park Rangers like Jon Preston of Olympic National Park are eager to welcome us to their parks. They are full of knowledge and inspiring information about these national treasures.
But that’s what destinations like the national parks do, that’s why I am such an advocate for them, and that’s why I think that we need to let go of the prejudice in our minds that it’s not something we do, nor would enjoy.
I wrote about how, in fact, the experiences in natural parks do align with the cultural values we hold dear and how they help us to connect and reflect on our heritage (read: Connecting with your true self and heritage in nature). I also shared how these same experiences may not be that unfamiliar to us (read: Exploring the seashore and feeling nostalgic).
I won’t deny the fact that if you went to a national park today you won’t find much diversity there. I can count maybe on one hand the many times I’ve seen a minority of any kind during my hikes and sometimes I don’t see any at all. It’s a fact that everyone is very aware of and is trying to change. But it’s not for lack of welcoming support from the people who work there, nor is it from the overwhelming desire of that community to see more diversity among their members. It is our own inhibitions and generalizations that often deny us the opportunity to not only personally experience, but also share, the beauty that being in nature brings. I understand and don’t want to underestimate the insecurities and doubts that might exist in our community of color when it comes to venturing out, as a person of color, into rural America, which is why I make it a point to do it myself and serve as an example of what you can expect.
In the end, being one in nature is part of my heritage, it is part of the traditions of my culture that have been lost over time. It feels natural and normal now for me and I get such great joy in our hikes, even if I can just go to the local nature trails or state park. I hope that my journey and growing love for it all is a testament to how life changing it can be and inspires you to check it out for yourself.
About Free National Park Day
Mark your calendars for Free National Park days, and also the National Public Lands Day a national volunteer service event that invites guests of all ages to participate in volunteer efforts to help maintain and support our parks system. The parks host several of these free days a few times a year and for those who are looking to discover the national parks but might be concerned about costs, this is a great time to go. Though, personally, I think that the best time to explore a park is when there’s potential for it to be less crowded.
Here’s a few things to know about costs and fees when it comes to national parks: if you plan on visiting several national parks throughout the year, it might be best to purchase an annual pass (currently the cost is about $80 and covers all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and over 2,000 Federal lands). Some parks have gates where you pay an admissions fee to enter, some don’t. Out of the 401 national parks we have 268 of them never charge a fee. The fees can be as much as $15-$20 dollars are per vehicle, or about $5 dollar per adult entering by foot, and cover up to 7 consecutive days of park entrance. This is the fee that is waived during Free National Parks Day, as well as commercial tours and transportation fees. The fees not included in the free days are for camping, reservations, food (or concessions), tours, or fees collected by third parties. For a full list of parks and fees, as well as events and activities, visit the official website for the national parks at www.nps.gov.com.
Our Olympic Park visit was featured in the New York Times! Check it out!
To see all the fun we had at Olympic National Park, please check out The Travelistas in Nature Visit Olympic National Park. Many thanks to the American Latino Heritage Fund and the National Parks Foundation, as well as partners and sponsors REI, Columbia Sportswear, and ARAMARK.