Another year of Family Nature Summit has come and gone. Of course, it was a great week. How can you not have a good time with a bunch of friendly, active people next door to Rocky Mountain National Park.
The hikes were fabulous. I learned a lot of the history and culture of the area and my granddaughter had a great time. She caught up with her friends and made new ones.
It would be difficult to pick out one highlight. But if I could only choose one, it would be Tuesday. I had gone to a program with a park ranger where I learned that picas live in the tundra. The animal that Hannah and I saw around Beaver Meadows a couple of days before could not have been a pica; it probably was a groundsquirrel.
I couldn't wait to pick up Hannah from her Junior Naturalist program to tell her that but she beat me to it. Her group had gone up to the tundra where she saw marmots and picas.
She greeted me with "Grandma, we didn't see picas the first day. They only live up in the tundra."
If there are highlights, there must have been a lowlight. I dropped my camera into the stream and it died. I've written enough about this but I was so lucky to be able to use people's cameras and photographs. Thank you!
I'm home now in Asheville, North Carolina with a pile of laundry. My husband is driving Hannah home to Ohio with her own pile of laundry.
It's time to turn back to my life in the Southern Appalachians. Next week, I'm helping a friends finish her Pisgah 400 hiking challenge and I'm leading a hike for Friends of the Smokies. And I have to keep working on my book on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Could this be the last full day of Family Nature Summit?
Hannah was in a trash fashion show last night, showing off the recycled jewelry that she made the first day.
This morning, I went on a hike to Bridal Veil Falls in the West Creek Research Natural Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is just outside of Estes Park from the Cow Creek Trailhead. We went through the McGraw Ranch. The ranch was bought by the National Park Service in 1988 and turned into a site for the Continental Divide Research Learning Center. Scientists stay in the refurbished cabins and study the Rocky Mountains environment.
The trail started out wide and open through ponderosa pines and aspens, then climbed gently along side Cow Creek. The last part was rocky but we reached the waterfall at about 10:30 am. We scampered around the rocks and climbed to the top of the waterfall, not the safest thing to do but the views were beautiful.
The walk back was an easy stroll and a good way to end today's activities. As you know, my camera died so I was dependent on the kindness of others for photos.
It turns out that Hannah's group also went to the McGraw Ranch but I didn't see her.
Then they finished their journal and practiced their skit for tonight.
This is camp, so the last evening is always skit night. Hannah's group sang In the Tundra, the mighty Tundra, to the tune of In the jungle, the mighty jungle. Then they showed a slide show of all the people and activities of the week.
We leave early tomorrow morning.
Next year, it's Bar Harbor, Maine. Acadia National Park, here we come.
Fourth day! Is Family Nature Summit coming to an end?
I spent the morning with Junior Naturalists, Hannah's group.
Twelve kids, all who finished the 2nd or 3rd grade, and two teachers walked to Moraine Park Visitor Center and History Museum. The walk was as important to the kids as the museum. We took a back way from the YMCA and walked about an hour or so. For some children, it was a piece of cake, for others, it was a struggle.
The museum was well-done for children. Lots of big, big print and pictures describing the varying terrain of Rocky Mountain National Park - Montane forest with pondarosa pine, subalpine with spruce, pine and fir and the tundra.
The building itself used to be the Steads Ranch. A fireplace and a typical room with a bed upstairs show what it was like in the late 1800s.
Then we walked back and met Bruce L. by the stream to do aquatic studies. I started taking pictures of Bruce and the children and dropped my camera in the creek. Dead in the water though I'm trying to dry it out by putting in a ziplock full of rice. But with the help of some friends, I was able to resurrect my pictures.
Enos Mills Cabin
Enos Mills (1870 to 1922) is the John Muir of the Rockies. He came to the Rockies as a 14 year old and soon built a cabin near Lily's Lake, just outside what is now the National Park. He could see Longs Peak out of his one window.
He became a guide and naturalist and an advocate for the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park.
His granddaughter and greatdaughter are still keeping the flame of Enos Mills going.
You can learn about Enos Mills from their website or from one of Mills many books. He was also an accomplished photographer and I bought a print of his cabin in winter. I plan to write an article on this visit.
Thank you to Chris Meyer for the pictures of the cabin and Longs Peak.
A rest day for me after hiking Hallett Peak.
I went to a program on elk management in Rocky Mountain National Park. A ranger and Volunteer gave a talk on how the park manages its elk population.
A little history. Elk is native to the Rockies but became almost extinct in the area. Then in 1913, a group of rich Estes Park residents brought in elk from Wyoming. They just let them loose.
At the same time, wolves and grizzlies were also diminishing in numbers so the elk didn't have any natural enemies and they multiplied up to 3,000. So they hired sharpshooters to cull the elk population. That wasn't that popular and elk continued to browse through all the grass and kill the bark off the aspen.
Then came the elk management plan. How was the pary going to manage elk so that they didn't kill off all the vegetation? Elk will eat anything. After many years and public comments, a combination of culling (yes, that's shooting), birth control and fencing seems to be working.
In groups, we studied two plots: one in an unprotected field and one in a fenced in area. What a difference? The protected area had more aspens of varying sizes and willow trees. Fencing was working.
Hannah came back all excited today. Her group walked to Wild Basin in the tundra. They saw pika and marmots and learned that the small animals running around the "Y" were either ground squirrels or prairie dogs.
Then they had a program where they became Junior Rangers in Rocky Mountain. Another badge for her collection.
Back at the "Y", we saw three types of antlers: elk, moose and goat horns. After dinner, we went to a music program - see above.
Big day for me and Hannah on Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park - Day 2
Hallett Peak was billed as a strenuous hike and a hike that you needed to do to qualify for Longs Peak. This was a serious day.
We started climbing from Bear Lake parking area and climbed for five miles and 3,250 feet. What a trip. The trail went through spruce and fir and opened to a view of Dream Lake below. Then the trees got shorter and shorter and we moved from subalpine to above tree line at about 10,500 feet.
The first sign that things were different above tree line was that you could see forever. We were very lucky with the weather. No rain and even the clouds held off. Marmots played around, scampering on the grass and under rocks. They were not scared of people.
Flattop Mountain was a destination for many hikers but just a lunch spot for us. We continued our climb and soon the trail petered out and we scrambled over talus, defined as a sloping mass of rocky fragments at the base of a cliff.
The last 500 feet up was hard going. The direction wasn't that obvious and the rocks were sharp and uneven. Still I got to the top at 12,700 feet. By the leader's guidelines I qualified for Longs Peak.
But on the long way down, I decided against Longs Peak. It's 2,000 feet further up in altitude gain and almost that in absolute altitude. The terrain at the top is very precarious. I wish the Longs Peak group a lot of luck.
If you asked Hannah what she did in Rocky Mountains National Park on Day 2, she would tell you about the chipmunk that ate her lunch. Ate your lunch? OK. Just got close to me.
After I picked her up, we planned for her big sleepover. She had invited three girls over to sleep in our room. We had to coordinate with three sets of parents to get their stuff for bed and the next day and find a couple of futons. Then we all went to the dance and ice cream social.
There was a band and a caller who directed us in big circles. He was very good in involving lots of people in country dancing. I participated even with my sore feet.
Back in the room, the girls painted their finger nails, worked on some drawings and giggled a lot before going to sleep. But they slept soundly.
So, Mom and Dad, if Hannah only talks about her sleepover, please remember that she's doing a lot of outdoor activities as well.
It doesn't take long for Family Nature Summit to get into full swing. After all, it's only five days of activities. So outfitted with our name tags and green scarves - green for folks that have been to two to four summits - Hannah and I went to our separate activities. She went to her Junior Naturalist program and I went hiking to Black Lake in Rocky Mountains National Park.
The hike into Black Lake was a solid 10 miles, 1,700 feet of ascent from the Bear Lake Trailhead. But it was the altitude that made it a challenge for me.
This hike had so many highlights. First Alberta Falls, a rushing torrent that attracted a lot of visitors. The water cut a large swath through gray rocks. After Alberta Falls, most visitors turned around. We continued to Mills Lake, a large, quiet lake about 2.8 miles from the trailhead.
But after Mills Lake, the trail was empty. We walked through Ponderosa Pines and aspens and saw several types of wildflowers including Columbine, the state flower. The trail passed Jewel Lake, a small jewel that we were able to see through trees. Then we hiked through the result of a wind storm, a micro burst, which I kept called microbrew. The trail had been cleared but the cut stumps and large rootballs will be around for years.
Finally Black Lake, a brooding lake with a rocky shore line. We settled in for lunch but the skies opened up. We packed up quickly and headed down.
Hannah is in a group with 11 other kids going into the 3rd and 4th grade. She knows several girls from last year.
She reported that they hiked all over the "Y" and saw a pika, chipmunk and ground squirrel. Then the "recycle" lady helped them make jewelry from recycled material. That was a big hit and she wore her jewelry at dinner.
After dinner (dinner is very early here), we decided that neither of us wanted to see a slide show. So I took her and her best friend to the swimming pool.
Tomorrow, we both go into the Park.
Finally in Colorado.
My granddaughter, Hannah, and I are at the YMCA of the Rockies at Family Nature Summit. This is Day 0 of our third year, Day 0 because the program officially started tonight.
We arrived yesterday so we could get rid of jet lag and get used to the altitude. It's 8,000 ft. at the "Y" and hiking will only take us higher. Yesterday we walked around the "Y" figuring out where all the buildings were. Today, we took a shuttle to Rocky Mountains National Park, hoping to do a short hike.
We stopped at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center but there were no trails right from the VC.
So we walked the road to the entrance of the park but that wasn't much fun. When we walked back, who should we see but a FNS van with Steve K.'s extended family? They invited us to ride to Grand Lake with them. What fun!
It was foggy in places as we drove Trail Ridge Road, stopping at various places including the Continental Divide. This is the place where the water goes either to the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.
When we thought we were going to go hiking, we ordered packed lunches from the YMCA. To our amazement, we got nothing but plastic food.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were prepackaged and so was my turkey sandwich. To that, they added chips, Rice Krispy treats and juice boxes. They packaged all of that in large Chinese take-away boxes. How could we put this in our packs?
From now on, Family Nature Summit will have their own meals and we'll make our own packed lunches.
My laptop died while I was at Family Nature Summits in the Ozarks. It was frustrating not to be able to blog or to download my pictures. Now I'm back and I'll do a summary of the highlights of the Summit.
Who would have thought I would go to the Ozarks in Missouri for a week in August? Family Nature Summits are just as much about the people and their interaction with nature as it is about the actual place. Even so, without FNS I would not have discovered the rocks and caves or Missouri.
I joined a trip to Elephant Rocks State Park, which are as awesome as they sound - see above.
The weather was very stormy but I managed to get a picture of these weird rocks.
More rocks at Devils Toll Gate, a sight on the Ozark Trail. It's Missouri's state trail, which will eventually wind from St. Louis to Arkansas. I hiked a small section on a rocky trail. Our section started at the highest point in Missouri at 1,772 feet.
One afternoon, I wandered through the YMCA site and found myself at the riflery range. The last time I touched a rifle was at a fair when I was ten years old. That was a long time ago. I was given instructions, seven bulllets and I managed to hit the paper twice. Not bad.
Jessica, a long-time summitteer, went on the ropes course and I tool pictures. That was heart-pounding enough - thank you.
And of course, skits on the last night. It is camp after all. Here is Hannah's group, the Chickadees, singing and flying away.
At the end of last year's summit, my granddaughter, Hannah, asked if we could come again. This year, she just assumed we were going back to Family Summits. It will be at the YMCA of the Rockies, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park - July 7 to 13, 2012. Come and join us.
Today we rode a van to the YMCA from St. Louis. From the moment Hannah and I met the group at the airport, it was like meeting old friends.
A couple of older girls took Hannah under their wing. This is Hannah between two older girls on the short ride to the car rental site.
We're staying at a residential YMCA. It's a huge place with an awesome lake. The picture above is from our deck. This "Y" spreads out with buildings, trails, several beaches, boating access - you name it. Think of the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain without the mountains and multiply it by 2 or 3.
Hannah reunited with her best Family Nature Summit friend, Alexa. All is well.
Of course, the scenery is not as awesome as the Blue Ridge. The highest point in Missouri is 1,772, as they proudly state. But the thing about Family Summits is that people come back every year regardless of where it is.
I'm off to Ohio to take my granddaughter to Family Nature Summits. It will be our second year at this great camp. The camp moves around each year and this time, it will be located at the YMCA of the Ozarks. Yes, it will be hot.
When I stopped at a Starbucks in Virginia on my way to Ohio, I met Linda and Ethan. See above. Linda was Ethan's grandma. I'm glad she told me because I wasn't sure.
Linda and Ethan were on a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to the east coast. They were stopping at various National Park Service historical sites. They were having a ball.
"You've got to take them," she told me. "You've got to get them out."
I'm leaving the history and culture to the parents. I'm more interested in getting my granddaughter out on the trail. But let's hear it for traveling grandmas.
Our family trip into the wilds of Florida is over. We're all back home where we're supposed to be now.
The highlight of the trip was certainly our day and a half into Big Cypress National Preserve with our granddaughter, Hannah. We walked the Florida Trail and she worked on her Junior Ranger badge. We saw alligators (the highlight for me) and a cormorant struggling with a catfish (Lenny's highlight).
But the real highlight was another trip into the wilds with Hannah - into nature, as she calls it. We only see her three or four times a year so I can't take any credit for her development - that credit belongs to her parents.
Our once a year trip to Family Summits can't sustain her interest in the outdoors for the rest of the year.
Every time I take her on a trail, show her a new flower or help her identify a new bird, I feel I'm making some contribution to her outdoor life. The flower on the left is a glades lobelia, a new flower for me.
And it's not that difficult. When she was three years old, we walked about two miles on a nameless trail in her neighborhood. We got ready for this "hike" by making a ritual of filling our water bottles, choosing our snacks and picking out a sun hat. And she loved it.
Now that she's much older, she seems to understand that her grandparents will take her on an outdoor adventure, someplace. The trick (and it's really not a trick) is to be fully present and fully enthusiastic as we want her to be. I have seen so many adults (parents and grandparents) who expect children to do things they wouldn't do. The family may be on a walk but the parents are on their cell phone or sitting on a bench reading a book expecting their children to run around. Why should children be interested in the outdoors if parents aren't genuinely as interested?
She has a National Park passport book where she collects her stamps from each national park unit that she goes to. And if she doesn't lose it, she'll have quite a collection before she's ready to explore the parks on her own.
We let her pick out a souvenir from the Big Cypress Visitor Center store and she chose a female ranger doll. The doll is almost but not quite in uniform. She's wearing green pants and a gray shirt, has a flat hat and binoculars around her neck. For some reason, her National Park Service arrowhead does not have the same design as on a real uniform.
All these incremental activities help to encourage an outdoor childhood. It's not that difficult.