Passing on a legacy
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservation are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." John Muir
Though both Bill and I enjoyed nature, we did not discover the wonders of our great natural national parks until we began full-time RV travel. Most of our experience had been limited to national battlefield parks like Gettysburg. However when we hit the road, we worked; our first job was at Grand Teton National Park. Over the next ten years, we worked in seven national parks. We were amazed at the beauty and diversity. Being in a natural park was calming yet exhilarating. It was a thrill to see animals and birds in the wild.
Bill sent postcards and photos and talked to his grown children about our experiences, but when he passed away in 2004 none had ever visited us where we were working. It is the experience that makes a difference, so afterwards I invited three daughters to see national parks -- places we'd worked and traveled. I hoped they, too, would love our national parks.
Last year, daughters Bethany, Ellie and I traveled in my camper from Washington to Arizona. Our first park was Yellowstone. Seeing places their dad had talked about like the Mammoth Hot Springs area with its colorful travertine deposits and seeing elk and buffalo up close brought their dad's words alive.
In Grand Teton, we searched for the RV site at Coulter Bay where we lived in 1993. Taller trees, a new employee apartment complex and rerouted roads meant we could locate only the approximate spot. We stopped at places where Bill and I had worked and played.
NATIONAL PARK PASSPORT BOOKS
At our first visitor center, I bought each of us a Passport To Your National Parks book. We stamped them with the dated park stamp and purchased a set of stick-in stamps for Yellowstone and put them in our books. We added a second set at Grand Teton. After Ellie flew home from Salt Lake City, Bethany and I continued through Utah into Arizona, stopping at Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon, adding additional stamps.
When Bethany and Rebekah flew to Tucson to meet me this year, we hiked in Saguaro National Park. I bought Rebekah a passport book and we all stamped our books with a new park stamp.
JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM
Right after Bill passed away, Rebekah flew out with her two boys. For closure, we drove a portion of Arizona Route 66, another of Bill's loves. We visited Petrified Forest National Park east of Holbrook. At the southern visitor center, we picked up Junior Ranger booklets for Robby, age 7, and Timmy, age 4. The Junior Ranger program is full of activities with different booklets for each age group. Completion earns the child a Junior Ranger badge.
As we got out at various stops, the boys easily completed their activities. At the northern visitor center, the ranger checked their booklets and, with great ceremony, awarded the boys their badges.
Ellie and Bethany shared their adventures nightly with their husbands. Ellie and Paul had always vacationed at warm beaches; now she was talking about showing Paul these parks instead. Bethany and Jay talked about an extended camping trip visiting western parks. Seeing Old Faithful firsthand, taking photos of an enormous buffalo and bull elk had an impact. Bryce's hoodoos had looked beautiful on the video Bethany watched with her dad, but huge and spectacular when walking among them.
When Rebekah got back to Baltimore, she shared her passport book with her boys. Robby and Timmy are excited about visiting some of the many parks in their area this summer and adding stamps to their book.
By creating opportunities for Bill's grown children to experience national parks for themselves, we opened up a new world for them. Rebekah is already passing that on to her children. When Bethany and Ellie have their own children, I'm sure they will too. Besides giving these young women insight into their dad's later life, the stewardship for our national treasures has passed to the next generation.
By Jaimie Hall Bruzenak. Originally published at RoadTripAmerica.com May 2006.
Photo credits: #1 Jaimie Hall Bruzenak; #2 and 4 Rebekah Whalen, #3 George Bruzenak