Blog by Christian Giles, ELK Urban Ranger
Last year I heard of an opportunity of a trip that sounded really interesting. This trip went by the name of The Next 100. When everyone had the first chance to apply I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to go but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to go. The trip mentioned trips to the different National Parks around the Nation and even thinking about going to the Grand Canyon made me so excited. So I sent in my application and along the way I convinced my friends to apply too, not only because I thought it would be a great experience for them but also because who doesn’t want to visit cool places like that with their friends? After about a month or two of waiting I received a text that I had been accepted on the trip and I was overjoyed. I have not had much chance to travel outside of the state before besides going to see family every once and awhile, so I knew this would be awesome. Also I found out that my friends had been accepted too and that made the anticipation for this trip even higher. Everyday at school we spoke of how excited we were to have the opportunity to travel to different states and visit National Parks that we most likely would have never visited because either we didn’t have the means to travel or we had never heard of some of them. We talked intensely about the trip even when we knew it was still a few months away.
Finally the day came and we all arrived at the ELK office early in the morning. The night before I had stayed up pretty late because I still hadn’t packed and only ended up getting three hours of sleep, yet that didn’t stop me from staying awake as we loaded up and got in the van. The trip I had been waiting for was really happening, and I was on my way. I don’t think it was really tangible to me until we got in the van but even still wasn’t real until we crossed the border into Utah. Me, a kid in high school with not much money to my name had been able to (for free might I mention) take a trip around the country and experience something that most kids in my situation could only dream of. In addition to that I believe this was a trip that most people don’t ever take in their lifetimes so I was glad I was on it. As we made our first stop in Utah at the Rafael Lookout Point, it was already very apparent that we weren’t in Colorado anymore. All around us were mountains of a red coloration that had formed from sand dunes long long ago. As I stood atop the lookout point I was already entranced by the beauty of the sight however, we weren’t even at a National Park yet. That just goes to show you how amazing an opportunity like this is for kids to get outside and see places like these. For me personally I know that I love nature and being outside however I believe there were kids on this trip that had never had this kind of experience before and on their faces I could see the same appreciation for what we were looking as I did in the moment, but this was just the beginning.
After we had stopped at the lookout point we had finished our NINE hour drive and stopped at a local restaurant for dinner(which was delicious) and stayed the night in a hotel in Salina, Utah. Everyone was feeling a bit drained from the long drive but we knew the next few days were going to be amazing because we were finally going to be at our first stop, Zion National Park. The next day we woke up pretty early and started heading towards Zion and even before we got inside the park we could see the beauty that it held within it’s boundaries before we even got there. As we got closer to Zion we stopped at a local Subway for lunch. The really cool part about eating there was the fact that, when we went outside to eat our lunch right behind us was a huge mountain that was a part of the park and that signified to me we were really there. We entered Zion National Park and we dropped off our things at our campsite and headed straight for the visitor center. There we met our ranger who would be helping coordinate for the service project. As we were in Zion we were surrounded by mountains the whole time and they seemed to tower over us. To be so up close to these mountains was breathtaking and I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t taking a picture of the scenery around me (except when I was picking up trash of course). Our service project at Zion constituted that we pick up trash along a trail by the name of Riverside Walk, which was nothing we weren’t used to as we all have participated in similar service projects in our hometown, just not at an awesome National Park. The whole walk was stunning and the formations within some of the rocks were truly unique. I had never seen anything like the mountains in Zion in my life and I was really starting to think that nine hour drive at the beginning was worth it.
After we had finished picking up the various trash and countless sunflower seeds on the trail, we had headed back to camp for the rest of the day. There we cooked dinner which was nothing short of delicious and when nightfall came we all gathered around the campfire and had s’mores and socialized with each other. The first day alone was already amazing, if that were the only part of the trip I honestly would have been satisfied, that’s how beautiful it really was. However, I was really lucky because we got to spend even more time here. The next day was very active as we went on multiple hikes that were absolutely breathtaking. At about 7 in the morning we hiked to both the lower and upper Emerald pools and I must say it was rigorous. The hike to the upper pool was the hardest as it was about a mile up the trail and being an uphill hike put a lot of work on the legs but when we got to the end it was nothing short of beautiful. From the top of the mountain you could see a waterfall come streaming down straight into the pool which was absolutely beautiful. I know I say beautiful a lot but in this whole trip I feel like this is the world that describes all these places. Later in the day we hiked the Weeping Rock trail which was very different from the rest as when you made it to the top you could literally see the water falling from the rock right above you. It was a pretty cool sight to see. After we had finished all of our hiking we had taken a trip to the ranger’s’ office to speak to them. I just say that all people in the Parks Service are very interesting people with very different stories. While I listened to them I never really heard anyone have a similar story except for the occasional SCA mention. One woman even mentioned that she got into the Parks Service because she had once been a person who put of flags at National Parks for Battle re enactments for money in high school. That was actually pretty funny to me but nevertheless interesting. From their stories I learned that just about anyone can get into the Parks Service and I started to think about it.
After speaking with them we headed back to camp and rested for the rest of the day after all the hiking. That was our last day in Zion and we would have to take off tomorrow. After the next drive we had ended up finally making it to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. As soon as we arrived we took a look at the Grand Canyon and I must say that that was the most awe inspiring sight I saw on the trip. As I looked over the canyon the front-most part of the canyon looked real but as you looked further into the background it began to look fake. This is just how shocking the sight was, it was unreal. At that moment I then understood why conserving these parks was truly important. How could it be possible that we let land owners come in and destroy or taint the beauty that is the National Parks. As I said to my friend Joseph while I looked at the Grand Canyon, “Man could not think to make anything as beautiful as what we are seeing in this moment.” Later in the day we headed to where we were staying and I must say the house was awesome. It was like living in a house from MTV cribs. Everyone was in shock when we saw the house and were amazed at how well we were being accommodated. Everyone I’m for certain slept well that night.
The next day we talked to the Rangers’ at Grand Canyon and similar to the first group of Rangers, each of their paths to where they were now was very different indeed. After speaking with the Rangers we did a service project in which we picked up trash along the South Rim of the canyon that would possibly be harmful to the California Condor. Picking up trash had never been so fun. Looking up after picking up each piece of trash we were met with the jaw dropping sight that was the canyon. I honestly could look at that canyon a million times and still not get tired of it. I felt that we were living a dream and I felt like it wasn’t really happening, but indeed it was. After we finished the service project and picked up a lot of trash (I’ve never seen so many cigarette butts before in my life) we went home. Later that night we returned to the South Rim to look at the stars and were beautiful. I’ve only seen so many stars one other time in my life and that sight is really breathtaking. I could tell that was the same for many others as well. To this day some people say that was their favorite part of the trip.
On our last day at the Grand Canyon we stopped at the Historyand Culture Museum Collection. There we saw things made by the tribes who inhabited the area from as long as 12,000 years ago. However the most interesting thing I saw and I believe everyone would agree was hair that was preserved from a prehistoric sloth. Take note that this species is extinct and this was from the prehistoric time so we’re talking hundreds of years ago and they had its hair. That is the oldest biological artifact that I have ever seen and it was absolutely awesome to see. That morning we took of for Utah again and were headed for Arches National Park, our final stop. Although our trip was nearing it’s end it still felt like we just started. For our time there we stayed in cabins that weren’t very far from the park itself and honestly very nice to sleep in. On our first day in Arches we had done yet another service project with some rangers which was removing the invasive species in the area of the Delicate Arch trail. After about an hour of work and lots of cheat grass removed, we walked the trail. The arches at the park were like nothing I’ve ever seen and I was taken aback at how many arches there really were. These perfectly shaped arches were not constructed but just a natural phenomenon, which made it ten times cooler. At some points on the trail we could see over the horizon of the area and it was really peaceful. At the end of the trail we unified together as a group and did our patented caveman grunts in victory.
After we left the trail we went to the visitor center and picked up some souvenirs and caught a glimpse of a video describing the history of the park. That day was very fun and honestly one of my favorite as I love to hike and the arches were really unique and great to see. On our final day in Utah we were treated to an AWESOME jeep ride in Moab. This was honestly one of the best parts of the trip. I felt like I was in a action movie as we were traveling over the rocks like they weren’t even there, and we were in the rain so that made the scenery even more beautiful than it already was. We stopped a few times and got a chance to look at the vastness that is the Colorado River and traveled within Arches again to look at more of the unique rock formations. Something really amazing was when we stopped and saw the imprint of a raptor from the prehistoric time that had been left on one of the rocks. Overall the whole experience was just amazing and if I could go again I would get back in that Jeep with no hesitation. As we returned to our cabins I realized that that was really the last day of our trip and it was crazy to look back on after all we had done. It was a bittersweet feeling because I didn’t want it to end because we had all become so close on the trip and I wanted to do more but I also missed being home. The next day we took a long drive from Moab all the way to Grand Junction, Colorado wherever would be spending our last day. This day of the trip wasn’t really planned but due to some bad weather on the way home we had to stop in Grand Junction as it would be dangerous to go home that day. As one kind of last hoorah, we visited Colorado National Monument. There we visited the Visitor Center and took a quick easy hike which was really relaxing as we were nearing the last day. When we we returned back to the hotel where we were staying we all wrote on each other’s postcards we had received from the staff. This was a really meaningful moment as we all discussed what this trip meant to us and how we benefitted from it. I felt really connected with everyone who participated because I felt feelings similar to theirs. After we concluded we all went to bed and as I laid in my bed I felt of sense of wholeness as I felt I had gained something that I didn’t have before going on this trip. The next day we left early for Denver and made it there at about noon where I was picked up and finally home again. I told my family of all my adventures and showed them all my pictures and my trip was completed. Looking back on it now I am very happy that I filled out that application because that is an experience that I will never get again.
Being able to see all those National Parks and getting that experience was like nothing I’ve ever experienced and something I feel everyone should have a chance to do. People don’t know the importance of National Parks because they have never seen them themselves. It’s easy to say something isn’t important when you haven’t witnessed it yourself, and that’s exactly what this trip did for me. Before we went on this trip I didn’t think too much of National Parks at all, let alone did I know there was over 500 of them. However after this experience I truly do realize why the conservation of these parks are so important to people. These parks are a part of our history and within them holds many beauties and wonders that we could only dream of. That being said, it is our duty to keep them going for as long as possible because everyone deserves a chance to look at the beauty these parks hold. It would be selfish of us to allow these parks to be disregarded and tainted, because there is some kid far in the future who enjoys being outdoors and dreams of being able to go to the place he or she’s parents or grandparents have talked so much about themselves. Everyone deserves this opportunity and for us to give up on the work that had been done for 100 years would be truly saddening. This trip is a staple in my life that has taught me a lot of things and if I had the chance to do it all again I would not hesitate to get back in that van and travel the country all over again.