Tag Archives: junior ranger

Sledding in the sand at White Sands National Monument

DSCN1141We were missing snow so much that we rushed home for a quick trip to the Fraser Summit – NOT!!! We did however have a fun 18 hours at the White Sands National Monument, where those of us that are very familiar with snow would swear that you are surrounded by snow piles not sand dunes.


At one point driving down the sand road we had to hit the breaks due to some other cars slowing down and both Tim and I cringed while waiting for the skid of the truck and the swing of the trailer until we remembered that this is a sand road not a snow road – what tricks our brains can play on us!

We got to the park an hour before dark and were able to experience the sunset there – it seemed to go on forever. With very little surrounding light and an almost full moon it was a fabulous place to spend the night. The only downside was the temperature – it got down to freezing and I fell asleep still wearing my winter hat and mitts. Tim got mild frost-bite in his toes from running around in the dunes in bare feet that night!

We were up bright and early the next morning and drove around the park checking out all the various parking lots and picnic sites. You can definitely envision how busy it is in the summer time. Their picnic covers are really quite cool and futuristic looking – the shade cover and the table are all one piece and made of metal.

By 10:00 am the day had warmed up enough to get out and play on the sand dunes with the 2 sleds we bought at the gift shop. Sand definitely has a higher friction factor than snow so you need to pick tall dunes to get some speed going. It was a morning full of giggles and smiles with many versions of head to head racing, and the workout of climbing back up to the top.

whitesands JFR

We finished off our junior ranger book by lunch time and were then back on the road headed eastbound to Balmorhea State Park in Texas. White Sands National Monument is barely out of the way for anyone heading east or west along I-10 and definitely worth a stop to play for the day.

Organ Pipe National Monument


Organ Pipe National Monument was our first stop heading east from the California coast. It is a few hours south east of Yuma, Arizona and about 10 minutes drive from the Mexican border. We rolled in after dark and were thrilled to discover this great big Organ Pipe Cactus right at our campsite. It was also great to be able to see the night sky and the stars again!

DSCN0999 The view the next morning was equally impressive. Big blue skies that seemed to go on forever.

DSCN0991We met a ranger shortly after pulling in and he mentioned that they had a packrat problem that they were working on – they were out on a trapping mission that night. I remember how fun the packrats were as a kid when we left out shiny things for them but having the risk of them eating at the important parts of the truck or trailer turned this from humourful to concerning. Neither Tim nor I had a great night’s sleep as we were up with any sound!

We headed out on a short morning hike before things got too hot and had lots of fun refreshing our memory on all the different versions of cactus – organ pipe, saguaro, ocotillo, chula and barrel cacti. Every vista was just beautiful…This also helped with Hunter and Tim’s ranger badges.

organ pipe ranger badges

We would definitely recommend this park – great campground, beautiful scenery, and good hiking!


Northern California – trees, trees, trees

hunter on the trainWe left rainy San Francisco and continued our journey northwards with the goal of getting to the southern end of Redwood National forest that night. We had pockets of no rain that let us appreciate the beauty of wine country (from the side of the road) and the treat of a rainbow.

During one of the gaps in the rain we pulled over to deal with a kayak that had become loose. Rather than haul the ladder out of the trailer (a complicated effort), we used teamwork to get things fixed! It gave Hunter a lot of giggles…

lee & tim fixing kayak

We pulled into our campground in Myers Flats in the dark and pouring rain. We looked at the incredibly soggy ground and thought there was no way we could park here as we would never be able to leave in the morning. Luckily someone else arrived at the same time and the owner came out and found us 2 gravel sites (still really muddy) that we would live with for a short stay.


We pulled out in the morning and headed up the road towards the park. We pulled off in Scotia to get gas and did a small detour to check out the sawmill. Turns out Scotia has a pretty neat history as a company town (Pacific Lumber Company) from the 1880’s – it recently went bankrupt so is going through transition now.

redwoods forest screen shotWith intermittent rain, fog and chilly weather we stuck to the main highway (101) through Redwood National Park instead of driving the Avenue of the Giants. Being 49 feet long (and heavy), we have learned that windy mountainous roads are not really our thing – doesn’t make the truck happy and doesn’t work well for Hunter in the back seat.

We stopped in at the Ranger Station to get our usual Junior Ranger program and he generously deputized Mom so that we could do the program in the car and I could lead the reading of the oath and hand over the badge upon completion.


Scrambling in Joshua Tree

IMG_0923We stopped in Joshua Tree for a few days to break up the drive from Sedona to San Diego. Both Tim and I have great memories of previous trips there and we wanted to share the fun of scrambling in the jumbo boulders with Hunter.

We had initially hoped to camp in one of the campgrounds within Joshua Tree National Park but unfortunately they just aren’t designed to hold a 49 foot monstrosity! After finding the one spot that would fit and realizing we were on an extreme angle and parked next to an area that had a sign warning of dangerous bees (really???), we decided to give up on that vision and head into 29 Palms to the commercial campground there. 29 Palms Golf Resort is an older, smaller worn down version of the Voyager resort in Tuscon. It was just fine for a 2 night stop…

Joshua Tree has a number of different areas / zones to the park. Situated between the Great Basin desert to the north and the Sonoran desert to the south, the Mojave desert is a rain shadow desert with a mix of latitude, elevation, geology and plants. We successfully completed another Junior Ranger badge and enjoyed the learnings through out the day.

One of the interesting “geographies” is the Chulla Cactus Garden. As you drive from the south entrance to the north entrance you suddenly come across this area full of chulla cacti. It is maybe a couple of kilometres deep and stops as quickly as it starts, leaving you really curious about the ecosystem that created it.

IMG_9435We spent a good three hours exploring all of the rocks and pushing our various comfort zones with heights and gaps.

IMG_9442Although the rock looks just like the slick rock found in Utah and northern Arizona, it is not! It’s a scratchy mixture that is almost like rough concrete. Not nearly as comfortable to slide or contort yourself when scrambling but it does provide good grip.

Another fun day playing outside in the sunshine 🙂

Saguaro National Park – Tucson, Arizona

tim hunter saguara NP signI’m not a big fan of the desert landscape…it just doesn’t do much for me. Having gone through a ranger naturalist walk at Saguaro National Park, I am now much more appreciative of the subtle complexities of the desert neighbourhood and the different plants and animals that make it home.

hunter & ranger

Saguaro National Park is actually split into 2 parks, with the city of Tucson in between them. They are large tracts of land that protect this landscape from urban sprawl and the devastation that was happening due to ranching and cattle grazing.

The saguaro cactus is the quintessential symbol of the south west and it plays a critical role in the desert eco-system, often housing an handful of other animals in their stalks. A saguaro can get enough water for the year from a single summer rain storm. They have these funky accordion pleats that allow them to swell or expand to hold all of that water and then slowly shrink as they use the water up.

Thanks to the Ranger tour, we learned all about the main types of cactus in the Sonoran Desert – saguaro, fish hook barrel cactus, cholla, ocotillo, and prickly pear as well as the palo verde, creosote bush and mesquite tree. Mother nature is pretty amazing with how these plants have been created or have evolved to adapt to their incredibly harsh/challenging circumstances!

The learning that we did for the Junior Ranger program has come in handy for the rest of our desert stay…

Fort Moultrie National Monument, Charleston

fort moultrie signFort Moultrie was first built in 1776 (at that time called Fort Sullivan) to prevent British naval incursions into Charleston Harbour. It was built of palmetto log walls that readily absorbed the shots and shells fired when 9 Royal Navy warships attacked on June 28, 1776. Colonel William Moultrie and his 400 men fought a day long battle that ended with the heavily damaged British ships being driven from the area. This decisive American victory galvanized the Patriot’s cause for independence, and resulted in the fort now being called Fort Moultrie.

The first fort was beaten up and washed away by storm waves so a 2nd fort was built in 1798 of earth and timber. It unfortunately faces the same demise due to coastal storms. The third and present fort was constructed of brick in 1809. Originally fitted with 40 guns, the fort garrison consisted of 500 men.

On December 26, 1860, six days after South Carolina left the Union, Fort Moultrie’s small Federal garrison abandoned the fort, moving to the unfinished but more defendable Fort Sumter. State militia troops occupied Fort Moultrie the next day. Confederate Fort Moultrie participated in the April 12, 1861 firing on Fort Sumter that began the American Civil War. Heavily damaged by Federal bombardments that commenced in 1863, Fort Moultrie remained in Confederate hands until February 1865.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fort Moultrie underwent numerous changes as improving military and engineering technologies added to the complexities of coastal defence.

New threats of submarine and aerial attacks ultimately rendered static seacoast defences obsolete. On August 15, 1947 the army lowered Fort Moultrie’s flag for the last time, ending 71 years of service.

This was the last of our Charleston Forts and Hunter proudly got another Junior Ranger Badge along with his Civil War Historian patch!


Crystal gazing at the Petrified Forest National Park

hunter arms full petrified wood


Petrified Forest National Park is another lesser visited national park located in the North East corner of Arizona as you head towards New Mexico. The Hedderman family had stopped at the park a few days before us and raved so we thought we would spend some time in this self proclaimed “science park” while on our way to New Mexico.

After the highlights of discovering Route66 I wasn’t sure if there would be the patience and focus required for this visit. With a Junior Ranger badge on the line, Hunter snapped right to it and got to work. They also had a Junior Paleontologist program so we signed Tim up so he could be part of the learning as well.

hunter tim paleontologists

We enjoyed the historic information and education on what forms petrified wood. There are some great trails there and we explored a few short ones, only because we ran out of time to catch the longer ones initially planned.

It was incredibly quiet with few people there and drastically different landscape that you see in most other places.

Hunter and Tim both successfully completed their programs and got badges. Hunter also got his first patch, which was a big hit and has sent him in search of more!

hunter petrified forest jnr ranger

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Cape Verde Arizona

montezuma castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument is halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff in Arizona. It was created back in 1906 when President Roosevelt celebrated the passing of the Antiquities Act by declaring the first 4 National Monuments. The 20 room high rise “apartment” represents the Sinagua culture and civilization from over 800 years ago.

montezuma castle 3

After a very long day of driving yesterday (8+ hours) we had a slow morning at the Distant Drums RV Resort and spent the afternoon just down the road at the National Monument. It is a fairly small “park” but has a great Junior Ranger program. We visited their museum, played with an interactive display that gave you 360 visuals inside the Castle and then wandered out down the paths to experience the Verde River basin and the amazing cave formations. One of the neat things we learned was they made “T” shaped doorways (look carefully in photos) to symbolize that they were a friendly and welcoming community.

hunter swearing in jnr ranger book


It was a wonderful learning opportunity about ancient civilizations, relative timelines (when this was happening in North America, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was being built and the ceiling on the sistine chapel was being finished), and how cultures rise and fall due to location, disease and amenities.


Great Basin National Park & Lehman Caves, Nevada

nevada cave features

Great Basin National Park is tucked in a remote corner of eastern Nevada, just off historic highway 50. It is the 9th least visited National Park in the USA so the staff were happy to see us! This obviously leads to curiosity about who else is in the top 10 least visited parks – check out the list here… http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/national-parks-124040809#slide-9. Not a surprise to see 3 Alaska parks in the top 5.

Anyways… one of the main features in the park is Lehman Caves so we thought it would be a great stop on our way to Reno. We pulled in just before dark and were able to pick up a Junior Ranger book to work on and find a camp site. There was about an inch of snow on the ground and the campsite was at 7300 feet elevation so things were definitely cool that night!

nevada cave ranger katie

The next morning we were up bright and early to make it to the Ranger Station for the 9am cave tour. Ranger Katie toured us through the caves for 90 minutes and it was so interesting and captivating. To make it accessible, the park has put in a paved entrance and exit, paved floor path and LED lighting throughout. They have done a good job with the lights and paths and they aren’t all that intrusive into the experience. It was much better than we had anticipated.

hunter cave candle

Lehman caves was discovered in the late 1800’s and the first explorers paid $1.00 and were given a coffee can with a candle inside and the guarantee that someone would come in after them if they did not return within 24 hours of going into the cave. At one point Ranger Katie had Hunter hold a coffee can lantern and then turned all of the lights around us off. She then had Hunter blow out his candle and we were all left in the dark imagining what it would have been like to be exploring, trip and fall and have your candle snuffed out. Total darkness with no sense of which direction to turn.

Doing the Junior Ranger book the night before was great as we all learned about Cave features such as stalactites (hang down), stalagmites (come up from the ground), cave popcorn, cave drapery, cave parachutes and the best of all – cave BACON (named for it’s wavy shape & brown colour)!

Hunter successfully completed another Junior Ranger book and got his badge after being sworn it. Note the coat & hat due to it being very WINTER like 🙁hunter jnr ranger swear in