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Keep Your Childlike Sense Of Wonder Alive In America's National Parks

To have a positive hiking experience when we visit the parks in the summer, we practice the following.
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Awe and Wonder

On August 25, 2016 the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary. We celebrate the 6th year anniversary of our summer hiking vacations in thirteen of America's 59 amazing national parks.

With my husband at the Visitor Center in Shenandoah National Park
©Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

Our hiking vacations began in 2010 on our way to Colorado to spend time with our daughter and her future husband and in-laws. My husband, son, and I spent three sweltering days hiking and biking in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The majestic Grand Canyon left me speechless. Next, we discovered Arches National Park in Utah. We spent a couple of hours in stifling heat admiring with amazement the astonishing arches and buttes.

The following summer my husband and I flew to Salt Lake City. We rented an RV. Off we went to Yellowstone in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, and Grand Teton in Wyoming. On the way to our daughter's wedding in Colorado the following summer, we spent three days hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. The following summer we hiked in Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia in California followed a year later. Last year, we hiked in Acadia in Maine. Two weeks ago we hiked in Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, and Shenandoah in Virginia. The awe and wonder of our beautiful national parks pulls us back every year.

Clockwise: Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, and Shenandoah
©Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

Childlike Sense of Wonder

I love the stillness of the trails and the solitude of the woods. Hiking on the strenuous John Muir trail in Yosemite and the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah, or running up steep roads in Rocking Mountain is also cross training before an ultramarathon race, and respite afterwards.

Clockwise: Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Shenandoah
©Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

The national parks also nurture my childlike sense of wonder. Like a child, I am in awe of everything - from the beautiful flowers, to the crawling insects, to the joyfully noisy birds, to the fluttering butterflies, to the bigger than life wildlife. I am paralyzed not with fear but with wonder and the exhilaration of a safe encounter from afar with a bear, elk, ram, deer, rattlesnake, and almost being chased by a bison in Yellowstone.

Clockwise: Yellowstone, Acadia, Yellowstone, and Shenandoah
©Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

Hiking, rock scrambling, and curiosity never tires me. I'm the inquisitive adult completing the junior, senior and not-so-junior ranger activity books (with my husband's help) and attending junior ranger programs (with my husband) about water insects, dangerous predators, and birds of prey. I pledge to protect and educate others about our national parks. I earn my patch. Soon it is sewn onto my Yellowstone fleece. I dream of becoming a park ranger when I retire.

A Positive Hiking Experience

To have a positive hiking experience when we visit the parks in the summer, we practice the following.

1. Study the website of the park we want to visit and get acquainted with park
trails, rules, etc.

2. Wear hiking boots or sturdy outdoor shoes.

3. Carry backpacks with a rain jacket or a poncho in case it rains while we're on the trail. We pack extra socks, a long sleeve shirt, and a light jacket in case it gets cold. We pack a cap to protect us from the sun or rain. We keep spare clothes, water shoes, socks, towel, and my pink rain boots in the trunk of our car. This came in handy as we dried out after hiking uphill for a mile to the end of a rocky trail in pouring rain and thunder.

4. Wear cargo pants, hiking pants, hiking dresses/skirts, running capris tights, and skorts.

5. Pack sunscreen, bug spray, bandages, Neosporin, and headlamps.

6. Carry extra water and sport drinks.

7. Pack nuts, dry fruit, coconut, fruit, and almond butter and banana sandwiches.

8. Transform fallen tree branches we find along the trail into walking sticks. On our last day of hiking, we leave them behind for the next hikers' enjoyment.

9. Always go to the visitor center, ask a ranger for guidance, and take maps of the hiking trails. We never hike without maps.

10. Start our hike early in the morning and get back before dark.

An awesome hike and a safe trip to a national park requires good planning and packing for a long day of hiking, and exploring nature and all of God's creations safely.

"Hey Bear, Hey bear!"

We have taken pictures of a black bear in Yellowstone, a grizzly momma bear and her cub in Zion, a black bear in Great Smoky Mountains, and four black bears in Shenandoah. When we see a bear, we follow the advice we learn from park rangers and the park website. If you're in bear country, sing along the trails in case there's a bear, or a momma bear and her cubs around a blind turn or rustling about. They don't like to be surprised. Attach a cowbell to your backpack. If you see a bear, talk loudly and raise your arms up.

One of four bears we saw in Shenandoah
©Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

This approach worked well in Great Smoky Mountains. After hearing rustling on the trail, we stopped and listened. We saw a big black bear about twenty yards from us standing between some trees. We yelled "Hey bear. Hey bear!" I raised my arms up with my walking stick and continued yelling. My husband safely and quickly took a picture. The bear ran away. In Shenandoah, the black bears were oblivious to humans taking pictures of them from their cars. On the Appalachian Trail, we heard rustling. We stopped. A small black bear heard us and scurried away into the forest.

Take a Hike!

I am in awe of the magnificent canyons, trees, waterfalls, buttes, hoodoos, and spectacular mountain top views. One has to experience them in living color to be inspired with wonderment and reverence. John Muir wrote, "Keep close to Nature's heart...climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." Indeed! And I say, take a hike and keep your childlike sense of wonder alive in America's greatest treasure - her beautiful and majestic national parks.

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