Our family plans to visit all 59 American National Parks (and probably some National Parks of other countries as well). We’ve even got a map in our dining/school area that has all the locations marked with pins, and color coding to indicate which ones we’ve all visited. People often ask us about where this interest came from and we expect a fair bit of National Parks related content to appear here in the future, so here’s some of the basic ideas.
We (Pete and Rachael) have always enjoyed visits to National Parks – Yosemite was a much needed respite from the endless concrete of the LA area while we lived in California. In the interest of staying away from the crowds, our trips usually consisted of driving in the Southwest entrance, getting a wilderness permit in Wawona, and heading up into the Sierras to enjoy some solitude along with beautiful, deep forests and exfoliating granite. Upon opening the car windows inside the park, the air was different. Instead of breathing exhaust fumes and industrial air pollution, there were the rich scents of fir, pine, and cedar in the montane forest. Majestic sequoia stretched the limits of my mind by the sheer mass of a single living thing. Even the dirt seemed wholesome – rich soil fertilized by the prior generations of trees allowed to fall and decompose in place, rather than being commercially exploited.
As we became parents and home educators, we began to appreciate the National Parks in another sense. These parks are a classroom par excellence, combining opportunities to learn about a wide variety of ecosystems (American Samoa to the Gates of the Arctic), history (Mesa Verde to Hot Springs), geology (Yellowstone and Lassen Volcanic), with chances to gain some very practical skills, such as packing a backpack, budgeting and planning a trip, and not killing your family during a days long drive. Historical figures such as John Muir and the Rockefellers play unique roles in the history of the Parks. The Parks provide focus points for conversations about what it means to be good stewards of our natural resources. And they provide awe-inspiring views of our world which help us to become the humble and quiet people we desire to be, whether through the power of an erupting volcano, the solitude of a still alpine lake, the vastness of the plains, or the variegation of life under the waves.
We also encountered some inspiration from this family who made it their quest to visit all 58 (then 59) National Parks before their two boys reached 18. It was clear that having a family quest with a difficult objective had helped to bring them together as a family, even when the drives were long and the hikes difficult. They also have great youtube videos and even a movie, which is worth watching.
Our quest: to visit all 59 American National Parks, the two of us and all the kids that we get to bring home, together. That makes for a strange start, since we haven’t gotten to bring all the kids home yet, but we’re working on that.
We’d love to hear from you – what are some of the places that have been helpful for teaching? Or have helped to refresh your family, or both?