Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado – Visited 2009 and 2014

The ‘Disney Land’ of National Parks

Families are bonded in amazement as they learn how ancient peoples existed in the most primitive but breathtaking landscape imaginable. Understanding the keys to how these people survived the climate, with precarious resources, and the predicament of unusual housing situations is an unavoidable part of the experience. Your child will be richer for it. They will have a shift in their world perspective because the entire experience of this place is the imagining of people that looked like them, but lived a seemingly impossible existence.

Budding archaeologists, historians, and rock climbers will be encouraged and inclined to follow their dreams! Wide, thrilling eyes will be bright as they descend ladders along sheer sandstone cliff faces into cliff dwellings of native ancestors.  Families will explore the idea of religious ceremony, and question how artifacts elicit knowledge. Observers will learn deep, un-abating respect for different cultures and precious archaeological treasures. Kids love this place; it really is the archaeological equivalent of Disney Land!

The questions your children will ask will be beautiful, and you will learn things about them that you did not know before. What would their most pressing needs or concerns be in a place this harsh and majestic? What did these people think about as they crawled through the same spaces, but in a different time? You will walk away with unforgettable memories, astounding photographs, and a true humanistic knowledge deeply ingrained.

Junior Ranger Badge

  • Ancestral Puebloan Culture
  • Archaeological Concepts
  • Migration
  • Natural Resource Stewardship

Reminder

If you are reading this, you probably have children and as a family person, you probably do not need this reminder but just in case: DO NOT BRING MARIJUANA ONTO FEDERAL LANDS! Colorado offers a new, um, recreational opportunity. Advertisement of this is readily abundant, and you will see it everywhere. Just remember, it is illegal to possess this on federal land – and the park rangers will be happy to enforce this law, I assure you. We happened to witness a group of youngsters, sitting with hands cuffed behind backs at the entrance gate on their way in. The odor from their vehicle might have given them away – it was potent to say the least.

Extra Tips

  1. Arrive very early (before or at opening) at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to purchase cliff dwelling tour tickets. This is especially imperative during the busy summer season. Our two favorite tours, which you can nicely fit into a day visit (with proper planning), are Cliff Palace and Balcony House (both on Chapin Mesa). When you are purchasing your tour tickets, keep in mind that it will take you approximately 60 to 90 minutes to reach the cliff dwelling tour area from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center. Plan your time accordingly.
  2. Be sure to visit the http://www.nps.gov website to review information on “Know Before You Go”, especially as they pertain to tours and expected physical exertion. You need to carefully manage your children. The socially awkward harness for toddlers can be unabashedly used without awkward glances in this place.
  3. Pack your lunch the night prior. Food is available at Mesa Verde, but tour groups and lunch time crowds put a heavy volume on these establishments and you may find you are spending more time managing your lunch than you would have preferred. Picnic and pull out areas are abundant.
  4. This place is fragile, and large volumes of visitors put a strain on preservation. Please, do your part and remind your children not to touch the structures. Make a game of it, or it is possible that you or your loved ones will suffer from very public humiliation at the hands of some very zealous park rangers. It is inexplicably a da Vinci, really. You wouldn’t want your kids touching the Mona Lisa either. Please watch those goldfish cracker crumbs also. Food attracts rodents, and rodents are very destructive.

Where to Stay

Dive in and stay in a tent at Morefield Campground, or take your RV (with limited advanced reservations). A truly scenic campground with showers, laundry, and a convenience store, make this a great opportunity to try tent camping with the family. The convenience of being within the park makes planning easier, and offers flexibility. Far View Lodge, also within the park, offers hotel style accommodations. Durango, Colorado, less than 30 minutes away from the park entrance offers a wide variety of amenities.

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona –  Visited June 2009

Trees Rock

Fossil formation and remnants of the past are abound in this picturesque, remote National Park. These natural processes offer a unique opportunity to excite young minds. In-the-field activities are the most exacting way to understand geological processes in a comprehensive and lasting way. Would your children rather look at pictures of fossils in a book or see them in-situ in the wide expanse of the west?

Exploration of Petrified Forest National Park provides the opportunity to see into the past, present and future. You can look backwards into the Triassic period (245-215 million years ago)! This park offers one of the most continuously preserved portions of this period anywhere in the world. Both plant and dinosaur fossils from this period are found throughout the park. In its present, you can see the scientific processes responsible for our world. We use both the past and present to predict the future of this park as we learn how erosion and altering climate continues to alter these lands.

Junior Ranger Badge

  • Geological Processes
  • Painted Desert and Sedimentology
  • Paleontology (Triassic)
  • Fossil Formation
  • Wildlife
  • Appreciation of Scenic Vistas
  • Archaeology

Reminder

This is a National Park. Federal law prohibits collection or removal of any objects, most especially petrified wood from its setting! Please, leave that pretty rock right where you found it for the next person to enjoy.

Extra Tips

Experience unique cultures and art. Here, you are in one of the most profoundly beautiful, spiritual, and culturally exquisite places in the western United States. The Interstate 40 corridor (aka Route 66) between Albuquerque and Flagstaff offers wide open, colorful scenic views.

In New Mexico, both Gallup and Grants provide the opportunity to shop for artistic treasures made in the nearby Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo Nation Reservations. The prices and people are fantastic. Many of the roadside restaurants in these small towns have exceptional New Mexican (spicy) cuisine with a specialties being chili verde and Navajo tacos. Our favorite place to eat is Aurelia’s Diner located at 2502 East Historic Highway 66, Gallup, NM.

Explore archeological wonders. There are numerous other national treasures in the area that just simply should not be missed. The archaeologic and historic sites in the area are the ‘Machu Picchu of the United States’. One of the best ways to find other parks to explore is to view the index websites available on the National Parks website, which offers both a map and index view simultaneously. The index page for Arizona can be found at https://www.nps.gov/state/az/index.htm and the index page for New Mexico can be found at https://www.nps.gov/state/nm/index.htm.

Where to Stay

Considering the remote location of Petrified Forest National Park, most likely lodging will be found at the beginning or ending of your route in either Flagstaff or Albuquerque. The closest lodging can be found in Holbrook, or Chambers Arizona, which both offer Days Inn accommodations.

Arches National Park

Utah – Visited March 2016

Spring Break Here

Forgive my lighthearted musings on this trip, but it really is a soul lifting kind of majestic place. There are rainbows here for heaven’s sake, everywhere you look giant red, precariously perched rainbows. You feel majesty, sure, but you also feel joy and happiness. It’s a place to bring your family or college friends. With short drives, and relatively short and easy hikes, its simply a place of outdoor amusement, of the natural kind.

During Spring Break, well frankly, there are also lots of college boys here, from all over the country as tell-tale by their insignia laden apparel. They hike with knowing-ness and camaraderie, and that brave new world look on their faces. I just couldn’t help but smile that they were here with buddies, learning new things, on a sparkling clear, blue sky day. They were probably camping somewhere in new tents purchased just for this trip, or in one of the overpriced hotel rooms in Moab, six to a room. They just looked the part of happy and adventuresome boys. And, yes, that is in fact a mullet hairstyle that my adorable nephew is wearing. If some of those college boys make good on their word and bring back the mullet that “the really cool little kid” was sporting, don’t blame me. You can blame my nephew, he is his own man. I assure you.

Sadly, there were far fewer girls. I couldn’t help to think of the lonely girls, eager to meet the man of their dreams or fall into the trap of what “Spring Break” means on some tropical beach, bikini clad, intoxicated with friends. The few groups of young women that we did see were gorgeous, absolutely beautiful and engaged in the real (not artificial) joyfulness around them. I looked at my daughter, laughing and enjoying the company of her younger cousin who had joined us, and told her I would allow her to go backpacking in Utah on her Spring Breaks in college but she definitely cannot go to Jamaica. She looked at me and said, “Only if you go hiking with me”. I thought ‘absolutely, sweet pea – I would love to join you.’

Extra Tip – Arrive Early, Make Overnight Accommodations even Earlier

Check the park website the evening before you arrive and plan to arrive 10 to 30 minutes before the park opens. During peak season, it is not unexpected to see park traffic extending outside of the park onto US Hwy 191 for more than a mile.

Junior Ranger Badge:

  • Arches (of course)
  • Native Wildlife

When to Stay:

Spring Break (March – April). Tie it with a visit to Canyonlands if you can. Check out www.discovermoab.com to view various activities that will be happening in the area and plan accordingly.

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona – Visited September 2007

Eternal Dirt

The Grand Canyon is expansive, in every possible! The soaring vistas, the precarious recognition of your small self in the larger natural world carry peace from your spirit to the other side. The contrasting colors of the sky and stratigraphy paint images that will last an entire lifetime.

Dirt. How exclamatory that those simple grains of dirt created this miracle. Small, individual grains that slowly found themselves deposited in layers for millennia; and small individual grains correspondingly eventually washed away to places beyond, leaving the great gouge in the earth as the Colorado Plateau lifts higher into the sky. It is the largest canyon on earth at 10 miles wide and one mile deep.

Take your children here. Let them play in the dirt, let them sit on the ground and feel this great geologic connection. Let them eat it, be covered in it, combine with it, know it. In your home, you abhor it. You spend hours vacuuming it, dusting it, mopping it. But here, in this space, in this place it is the stuff of magic.

Extra Tip – Use Pedal Power

Bikes and National Park camping seem to go hand in hand. Bikes offer a quick way to access various locations within the parks, limit vehicular traffic, noise and air pollution, and offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the fresh air while getting from place to place. There are ample paved trails available. With younger children, the bike trailer offered a great way for us to get from the campsite to the rim and all of the activities surrounding. Bike rentals are available on the South Rim and all park shuttle buses are equipped with bicycle racks. There are only two locations where bicycle are not allowed, and you certainly would not want to use them in these locations anyway. They include inside the Grand Canyon (below the rim), of course silly. You may also not ride along any paved or unpaved portion of the Canyon Rim Trail, because it’s a long way down. Check the NPS website for more information on bicycling in the Grand Canyon.

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Where to Stay:

There is an abundance of accommodations both within and outside of most national park boundaries. The Grand Canyon National Park is certainly no exception, but due to its extreme popularity, advanced planning is paramount.

Within park boundaries: There are three campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park, two of which can be reserved through the National Recreation Reservation Service by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online at http://www.recreation.gov/.

Our family stayed at Mather Campground, located on the South Rim accommodating both tent and RV.

When to Go:

October

Junior Ranger Badge – Why Geology, Of Course!

Understanding the geologic processes that provide this mesmerizing expanse is certainly the primary theme. On the large scale, there is the canyon itself, but even on the smaller scale ranger led fossil tours allow children the hands on experience of exploration. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the incredible animals that call this place home.

Growing in a National Park

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In the chaotic modern world, overflowing with electronic sub-natural terrain and little opportunity for peace and quiet, being surrounded by nature has become short of elusive. Our National Park System still offers that refuge. In our National Parks your heart and soul intermix with the external beauty unhindered by the complexity of the man-made existence that has become our recent stage. We are a creature whose development has slept under the stars for the millennia, and now we find ourselves blinded without the stars, bathed in an un-natural light. We need our wide open spaces, like air or water. Our selves demand them. Our children, especially, need these places to grow, explore, and develop unhindered by modernity.

Referred to as “America’s Best Idea”, these wild spaces lend room for our souls to flourish.There are 59 National Parks within the United States National Park System, and hundreds of additional Monuments, Military Parks, Historic Sites, Preserves, Memorials, Recreation Areas, Rivers, Seashores, Battlefield Parks, Lakeshores, Trails, and Parks.

This website chronicles the adventures of one family to rest from society those rare and special moments of connection between our internal selves and the natural world while visiting our Nation’s Greatest Treasures with our best gift, our children. There are no electronics here, no amusement park rides or video games. There is only a connection between us and the earth.