Call it a phase, but I’ve been a little obsessed with national parks lately. It started last summer on a four-day backpacking trip through the backcountry of Colorado’s own Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my most vivid memories is watching the alpenglow on the peaks reflecting in a remote alpine lake, stunned by the beauty. I heard the mating call of elk for the first time. I understood what it meant to have a national parks moment.
Then, in March, my friend Alex (who was also in on the majestic RMNP backpacking trip) invited me on a national parks hiking trip to Utah for spring break. Main destinations: Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This time, along with great hikes, we had another mission: earn Junior Ranger badges.
Alex and our other adventure companion Samira have been collecting Junior Ranger badges at a feverish pace for the past year. Alex now has 13, and Samira has 10. I quickly caught their badge fever and earned two badges on the trip. Lately, all my trip planning involves adding to my collection.
Here are some answers to questions I’ve been asked as I boast about my new badges:
Q. Aren’t you a little old for Junior Ranger badges? Sounds like it’s for kids.
A. Yes, the program is designed for kids visiting the parks with their families, but anyone can earn one. The rangers may give you strange looks, and the requirements are higher for the age 18+ category.
Q. What are the requirements for earning a badge?
A. First you go to the visitor center and ask for the Junior Ranger booklet. These booklets are awesome — definitely worth keeping, along with the badge. They’re hands-on learning guides that teach so much about the parks, from their geology and natural history to wildlife poop identification. You’re also required to attend a ranger-guided activity or watch the film at the visitor center. Once you’ve completed the booklet, you take an oath with a ranger, who checks your work. Finally you’re awarded a badge.
Q. What are the next badges you’re shooting for?
A. I’m planning a trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison here in Colorado for next weekend, and there’s also a big five-day hiking trip to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah planned for Memorial Day. Then I’ll go back to Rocky Mountain National Park for a badge at some point this summer. So that will bring my collection up to five.
Q. Does the Junior Ranger program make you want to be a real park ranger someday?
A. YES! Between the badges and the PBS documentary series I’ve been binge watching on Netflix, I think I’m becoming pretty qualified.
For my friend Alex, love of the national parks is clearly more than just a phase. His favorites are Canyonlands, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Zion. As he puts it, “I love the parks because they permanently protect our most scenic and beloved natural spaces and the biodiversity within.”
On the question of whether the Junior Rangers program is for park-goers of all ages, Alex emphatically answers “Yes! All people should pursue them so they may have a better understanding of the heritage and required care of the parks.”
“You’re never too old to learn,” adds Samira. “The program ensures that you learn about your environment, and for that reason you appreciate it and enjoy it so much more. Maybe you notice something you normally wouldn’t, or you can name a bird you that otherwise you wouldn’t know about. Afterward, you can impress your friends with your great knowledge of the park.”
This post is April’s addition to my Ambassador series for VacationRoost.com