A longtime backpacker, climber, and skier, author Michael Lanza, along with his nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, embarked on a year-long trip through our National Parks.
It was an ambitious adventure, designed to immerse them in the natural world and to learn more about the effects climate change was having on these important landscapes.
He chronicled the journey in his book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.
Here, he shares five ways to encourage the next generation of outdoor adventurers.
1. Encourage outside play.
A slew of experts agree that regular, unstructured outside play is critical for a child’s healthy development.
To that end, “Kick them out of the house,” advises Lanza. “Kids today often want to play indoors where the electronics are. Insist they play outside—but also, give them the freedom to roam within boundaries appropriate for their ages. That way, they can explore and not get bored.”
It also helps to plan regular activity as a family: cross-country or downhill skiing, hiking on local trails, biking, even walking around your neighborhood or local community, Lanza advises.
2. Start slow.
When the time is right for adventure, take baby steps. “Begin with short hikes and gradually work up to longer outings,” advises Lanza, who gathered personal experience as a field editor with Backpacker magazine. “Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.”
Lanza’s year–long trip included sea kayaking and wilderness camping in Glacier Bay, Alaska. He determined they were ready for such an outing because they had previously backpacked, rock climbed, floated and camped on a wilderness river, and cross-country skied through snowstorms.
“They had managed stressful situations well and understood the need to follow instructions and that trips have uncomfortable moments,” explained Lanza. “Despite how wet and raw it was, they loved Glacier Bay.”
Lanza believes in one important rule: no whining. “Tell your children they can talk about any situation they’re not happy with, but draw the line at complaining just to complain. Everyone will be happier.”
At the same time, he advises including them in the decision-making process, so they have a sense of control over their own fate, which, he says, goes a long way toward relieving stress, no matter what our age.
“Welcome their questions and address their concerns,” Lanza says. “Make sure they know that you won’t ask them to do anything they are not comfortable with, and that you will provide whatever help they need.”
According to Lanza, Grand Teton National Park, Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Park all offer hiking and backpacking options that are ideal for beginners and families, with easy to moderately difficult days and simple logistics.
4. Be flexible.
Whether rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone or canoeing in the Everglades with his kids, Lanza made a point to be flexible.
Taking children on an outdoor adventure, especially younger ones, does not always go according to plan. Young kids want to throw rocks in a creek and play in the mud.
Lanza’s advice: “Let them. But, explain that there will be time for playing, but also a time for hiking.”
Meanwhile, parents should “focus on the journey rather than the destination,” advises Lanza. “And have Plan B at the ready.”
5. On the trail with teens.
No matter what kind of trip is planned, allowing a teenage son or daughter to invite a friend along is often a good strategy. It can be a little trickier when planning an outdoor adventure. “You want to make sure he or she is up to the challenges the trip may present,” explained Lanza. “It’s a good idea to talk with the parents ahead of time and perhaps plan a practice outing.”
Whether it’s a mountain climb or rafting a river, finding a shared goal that will challenge and excite your teen is a great way to open new doors within your relationship and to the natural world, offers Lanza.
Michael Lanza also offers outdoor adventure tips and strategies on his website The Big Outside.
Hiking with kids provides families with an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and to get some exercise, fresh air and fun together. The pros at REI suggest the following items as essential for embarking on a day hike.
The Ten Essentials
For safety, survival and basic comfort:
• Map (with protective case)
2. Sun protection
• SPF-rated lip balm
• See Clothing options, below
• Headlamp or flashlight
• Extra batteries
5. First-aid supplies
• First-aid kit
• A lighter or matches in a waterproof container
• Firestarting material
7. Repair tools and kit
• Knife or multi-tool
• Repair supplies
• Food for the day, plus extra food
• Water bottles or hydration reservoir
• Water filter or other treatment system
10. Emergency shelter
• Tent, tarp, bivy or reflective blanket
One hundred years ago, during February, Arizona gave up its Territory status. Known for abundant sunshine, towering saguaros and the Grand Canyon, our 48th state also offers a diverse landscape and a wealth of natural and cultural opportunities for curious families.
Here are five ideas:
1. Experience the Arizona Trail.
Sample a section of this recently completed 800-mile scenic pathway that winds through deserts, canyons (including the Grand Canyon) mountains and mesas, stretching from the Arizona-Mexico border in the south, to Utah in the north. Explore the trail via foot, horseback, mountain bike, mule or snowshoe and tap into historic sites, geologic wonders and an extraordinary menu of wildlife and vegetation. Designated as a National Scenic Trail, small communities, abandoned mining sites, cliff dwellings and remote wilderness areas also lure adventure seekers. Contact: www.AZTrail.org.
2. Baseball Spring Training.
Each year, baseball fans unite in the Valley of the Sun to watch their favorite teams warm up their skills under the Southwestern sun. For example, Scottsdale is home to the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Games get underway during the month of March in downtown Scottsdale and at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, along Scottsdale's border with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The crack of the bat, hot dogs and popcorn can also be found in the neighboring communities of Mesa, Surprise and Tempe. Packages available.
3.Visit Native American Lands.
Arizona has the largest percentage of Native American Tribal land in the United States. In Northern Arizona, travel through the much larger Navajo Reservation and visit the historic Hopi village of Oraibi. Built in 1100 and discovered by a lieutenant of Coronado in 1540, this small enclave is considered to be the oldest Native American settlement in the country. Shop for local crafts and visit with the native people. Consider a tour that includes visits with potters, basket makers and kachina carvers and to learn about the geology and cultural significance of the region.
4.A Bird Lovers Paradise.
Southern Arizona is recognized as a world-renowned migratory corridor for birds and was declared the first Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Families visiting Sierra Vista, the “hummingbird capital of the US”, have the opportunity to spot more than 14 varieties of the small, winged creatures. Nearby Ash Canyon is home to a rarely-sighted hummingbird, the plain-capped starthroat. Pack your sun screen, hiking boots and binoculars. More than 150 bird species, ranging from sand hill cranes to colorful flycatchers, await.
5. Travel The Salsa Trail.
Dip your chips in the spicy sauce that gives this trail its name. You’ll expand your culinary horizons while enjoying a Southeastern Arizona road trip. Visit with local farmers, ranchers and miners as you wind your way along the scenic Old West Highway that connects eight communities known for great Mexican food, derived from old family recipes and small-town, friendly service. Visit the local tortilla factory and sample fresh roasted chiles at a nearby farm. In the Fall, the annual SalsaFest features salsa-making and eating contests as well as music and family activities.
Contact: www.SalsaTrail.com; Resource: www.ArizonaGuide.com
It’s a must see: stunning vistas, more than 200 lakes, 175 named mountains and 40 glaciers, tucked within one million acres of natural beauty. That’s Glacier National Park.
Established in 1910, by an act of Congress, this extraordinary recreational playground is also home to more than 350 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With so much to see, if you go, it is important to plan in advance. Here are a few suggestions to help plan your visit:
Explore on foot.
With more than 800 miles of maintained hiking trails, there are plenty of opportunities for families to learn about the flora and fauna. A favorite among families, we enjoyed the beauty of the Avalanche Lake trail. Within four miles round trip, and a gain of just 500 feet in elevation, trekkers will enjoy a rich forest environment, tumbling waterfalls and a majestic lake with more waterfalls at the turnaround point. Take a picnic and enjoy. Easily accessible, the trailhead is five miles beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge.
Ride the Red Bus.
The historic red buses are a symbol of another age, providing a commanding overview of the park’s magnificent history and scenery. The vintage vehicle carries 17 passengers. Tours range from three hours to a full day. Children under 12 are half price. Contact: Glacier Park, Inc. ; www.GlacierParkInc.com; 406.892.2525.
Scenic Boat Tours.
Step aboard historic boats and glide across the pristine alpine lakes nestled amid majestic peaks. Enjoy the colorful commentary provided by the skilled crew. Available from four locations. Fares under $20. Children under four are free. Children 4-12 are half price. Contact: www.GlacierParkBoats.com; (406) 257-2426.
Float the River.
Venture down the wild and scenic middle and north forks of the Flathead River with professional guides who will share their knowledge of the river. Half and full day scenic floats or whitewater adventures. Paddle a raft or an inflatable kayak. Contact: www.GlacierRaftCo.com; 1 (800) 235-6781.
Glacier Outdoor Center’s log cabins provide a comfortable and well-located retreat just outside the gates at West Glacier. A great option for family reunions, one and two bedroom cabins sleep from six to fourteen people. Enjoy full kitchens, covered decks, a gas grill and full guide services on site. Contact: www.GlacierRaftCo.com; 1(800) 235-6781. For reservations inside the park contact: www.GlacierParkInc.com; (406) 892-2525.
For additional information about Glacier National Park contact: www.nps.gov/Glac; 1 (406) 888-7800.
An Essay: Gardener in the Wild
The San Jacinto Mountains, above Palm Springs, California, shoot up 10,804 feet from the desert without, as one writer has it, the geologic fanfare of foothills. I'd come in January to one of its mountain towns, Idyllwild, to try to recover some shred of a self, fractured from a September move. I left a beloved New England landscape, townhouse, and garden for a particularly congested section of Los Angeles, called Miracle Mile. The miracle, as far as I can tell, has to do with cramming 5,280 linear feet with a million people, an equal number of cars, and billions of dollars.
Every day in L.A. was raw, and seemed dangerous. Drivers were poised to kill. I saw a homeless man brush his teeth over a trash bin. On a clear night in October we heard long minutes of gunfire. I couldn't sleep. A California native, Salvia leucophylla, bloomed blue-lavender in the neighborhood, but my heart was closed. One afternoon I hit a car in a parking lot. In early January I had two bouts of traffic-induced panic.
All this was confusing and upsetting. When I did sleep, I often woke up crying. I wanted to steady myself, thinking of the far greater displacement and losses suffered by survivors of Katrina, and tried to buck up. But all life is individual life.
The first week or so in mile-high Idyllwild I ran at urban speed. Cell phone work? Wi-fi card installed? Bills paid? On a six-hour hike on the familiar South Ridge Trail, I scrambled off-trail up a ledge, and then couldn't remember the way I had come. Body not attached to head.
On the coastal side of the mountain, eleven overlapping life zones seem to call in the plant diaspora of California. It's a dizzying and unpredictable botanical stew, where Chaparral-zone shrubs chat up lodge pole pines. Particularly striking are the twisting architectural shrubby trees, manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.). The mahogany-cinnamon color of its smooth and slick-looking bark enlivens the forest and rocks and boulders and honeycombed canyons of greens and greys and coffees. Even the silvery skeletons shine.
One warm mid-January morning something happened between me and a manzanita that brought me back to ground and to my senses. I was walking along the Ernie Maxwell Trail. I had strolled by thousands of these shrubs and small trees already when, for some reason I spied, I suppose in some Buddhist sense, one. It was holding onto a small slope just up from the trail, trapped by debris from a fallen tree. I jumped into the manzanita. I grabbed dead branches from its crown. I pulled out pieces of wood from its branches. I threw it all into a pile across the trail. I cracked, shoved, dragged, kicked. It was as if I had run out after a storm to find the venerable mountain laurel in my Massachusetts garden similarly stricken. I worked so fast and hard my arms scraped and bled, but not so mindlessly that I lost balance or footing.
I finally stopped. The tree was permanently pinned and torn in three places by the splintered giant. Short of a chainsaw, I could work no further. I grieved for this little tree.
Then, I took a broader view. The mountain was witness to thousands of crushed manzanita, most still living. I've since returned to Idyllwild (it's the anti-L.A.) to see new growth on the tips of "my" manzanita, in spite of its wounds. A couple of times though, preoccupied on the trail, I've whizzed by it. So much for oneness.
Yet I carry a few of the manzanita's small leathery leaves in a pocket, and hide three or four in my pillowcase. I can't explain why.
Two days after my adventure on the trail, a generous Czech woman in Idyllwild leant me a book about "plant spirit" medicine. She did not know about the manzanita.
Eliot Cowan writes in this book: "[T]he magic is not in the matter. It's in the spirit." So I don't worry about losing the leaves. I don't know what to make of it all, really.
Sometimes I think it was just the natural behavior of a gardener in the wild.
Paula Panich, Los Angeles, CA
Paula Panich is author of Cultivating Words: The Guide to Writing about the Plants and Gardens You Love (Tryphon Press, 2005).