Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Out West 2014: Badlands National Park

We didn't stop after our dinosaur dig! After a tearful goodbye to my edmontosaurus tibia, another dinner of pizza rolls (seriously, three pounds! With all that digging and hiking!), and a final night in Faith, we drove southwest to spend a day at Badlands National Park:

Yes, in about half of my photos that take place in national parks or monuments, you'll see the kids clutching workbooks--they're Junior Ranger books, and the kids LOVED them!

The Junior Ranger books are basically mini unit studies of each national park, encouraging active exploration of the place (usually through scavenger hunts or BINGO games), deeper immersion into some specific aspect (through the requirement to view a film or attend a ranger program), and cross-curricular research and study (the books cover varying subjects, but often history, culture, geology, biology, creative writing, etc.).

When a kid completes her Junior Ranger book, she goes back to any ranger in any of the visitor centers and turns the book in, goes over her work with that ranger and discusses it (and usually, in the case of Will, has a giant conversation about it), and is then awarded an official Junior Ranger badge to wear on her shirt, and is administered the official Junior Ranger oath.

Thrilling, right? And oh, the kids took this so seriously, and were so thrilled to earn each badge. And my favorite part (other than how into it the kids were) is that the rangers clearly took the project equally seriously. Several times we had rangers approach the children in the various national parks as they were working on a specific activity and converse with them about it--like CONVERSE converse, not just quiz them or "help" them. The rangers who went over the children's completed workbooks with them always also engaged the kids in conversation about them; they'd ask the kid to walk through the process of coming to a particular conclusion, correct erroneous information and explain the answer, ask them about their favorite activities or the most interesting things they'd learned, etc. I actually kind of sweated it a couple of times, listening to these conversations--reminded me of my PhD oral exams that I failed!

And you have not seen cute until you've seen my kids' earnest little faces as they repeat, right hands raised, their Junior Ranger oaths. They always put on their badges immediately, of course (Will liked to wear ALL of hers, for days), and when wearing their badges, they were invariably greeted by rangers with "Hello, Junior Ranger!"

Truly, this program just made the park experience for the kids.

And so, Junior Ranger books in two hands, we spent the day walking around the Badlands and climbing on stuff:

There are fossils to discover here, too, particularly some interesting fossils in the evolution of the horse. If you discover a fossil eroding out of the rock, you're to take a photo of it with something standard in the frame (coin, bill, house key, etc.), record its GPS coordinates with your smartphone, then fill out a form about it back in the visitor center. We didn't find any fossils, but we certainly kept a lookout!

Whenever Matt takes my camera, he always snaps cute photos of me--

--but he also takes sneaky photos like these:
That kid and I can't see each other, but clearly we're related!
And here I am on a different hike, once again sunning myself on a rock. Like a lizard.
We spent most of our day at the bottoms of these hills and cliffs and peaks, clambering up and then sliding back down, but toward the end of the day, noses pointed ever westward, our journey through the park took us to an area where we were looking down across vast vistas of Badlands:

Narrow walkway between two huge drops? Gallop across it, of course!
Or, you know, scramble over to the edge of it, sigh.

I love myself some sedimentary layers!
After exploring all this natural beauty all day, hiking and eating sandwiches and climbing on stuff, we settled ourselves back in the car for a drive to what may be the tackiest place in the West.

Stay tuned for Wall Drug!


Tina said...

I seriously think you need to write a book about how to plan and enjoy a family vacation. I would buy it, read it, highlight in it, dog ear the pages, and carry it on every family trip we go on.

Cause, you know, I suck at family vacations. Then again, we have only been on one in the 10 years we've been married...

julie said...

That's a super awesome idea! I'm gonna have to think on that one...


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