Posted by: Kirsten | Sunday, 12 August 2007

Preparing for that big trip

As a homeschooler, just about everything we do can become an educational opportunity, including our vacation time. In preparing for an upcoming trip with my son to the wild west, I actually started preparing in the fall of 2006.

Knowing we’d be hitting the Badlands, Yellowstone, and everything inbetween, my first task was to log into the home page of each park we planned to visit and request Junior Ranger booklets from each. Those of you that have participated in the Junior Ranger programs at various parks know that many of the activities are rather simple and straightforward, and don’t even require that you visit the park to complete them. I discovered a few years ago that my son was much more “into it” when we arrived at a new park having learned a little bit about the place ahead of time, and for some parks, the Junior Ranger activity booklets are a perfect no-stress introduction.

Granted, some of the activities require that you be at the site to complete them — and we save those for time we’re actually there.  But it takes less time that way, and I think it can be more effective as well.  For those of you that have spent most of your time at a park with only enough time to work that Junior Ranger booklet, you can imagine how much more enjoyable your trip can be (for the whole family) given more time to simply enjoy the many splendors of the park you’re visiting. As hectic as our lives can be, don’t forget to teach your kids how to just “relax” once in a while! 🙂

As an added bonus, some parks have sent us ADDITIONAL materials at no cost whatsoever to us, including promotional posters, guidebooks, park brochures, maps, and newsletters.  For example, an innocent request for the Junior Ranger booklet from Devils Tower in Wyoming first got us an apology for not having a Junior Ranger booklet to send to us, followed by: 1) A book called “Geology of Devils Tower National Monument” (95 pages), 2) A sheet explaining the theories behind the creation of Devils Tower, 3) A list of internet sites to visit for additional information, 4) A copy of the Proclamation from 1906 that created Devils Tower National Monument (a great tie-in to our Teddy Roosevelt studies in the past), 5) A list of all books, maps, guides, trinkets, and collectibles from Devils Tower Natural History Association, and 6) A series of fact sheets on every aspect of the park — from Geology and Native Americans to Rock Climbers and Resource Management Issues. 

All that from an e-mail that took me only a few minutes to write.  Where do you send your requests?  The easiest way is to hit the website of the park you plan to see ( followed by the four-letter code for each park). Grand Canyon’s code is GRCA, Everglades is EVER, Minuteman Missile NHS is MIMI (some are funnier than others!).  But you don’t need to know the codes — just navigate using the NPS home page’s national map — pick a state, then a park, then look for the “Contact Us” link along the bottom left. 

Every once in a while you’ll visit a park website with no advertised link for sending them e-mail.  Don’t give up the ship! From the NPS People & Places web page ( just select the park from the dropdown list and when the list of employees and their e-mail addresses comes up on your screen, find the one that says “Chief of Interpretation” or as a Plan B, anyone with a reference to Interp or Interpretation, and shoot them off your e-mail request.

If you still can’t find someone to e-mail, dig up your stash of stamps (you know… those peely, licky, sticky things that go on envelopes) and get the kids to practice their letter-writing skills. The park address can also be found on the Contact Us link from each park’s home page. Later, when that package arrives in the big brown envelope with all the goodies inside, your kids will be bursting with excitement to learn about and visit that park, whether it’s Minor Skirmish National Battlefield or Spasm Chasm National Park.

Summer’s almost over — get out there and enjoy!

— Jon


  1. After saying how wonderful Devils Tower National Monument was in sending me all those materials, the one thing I had asked for — the Junior Ranger booklet — wasn’t sent. I got the impression that they didn’t have a JR program or perhaps it was undergoing revision and temporarily wasn’t available (that happens sometimes when exhibits contains answers to questions and are inaccessible or get redesigned). As it turns out, the Devils Tower bookstore in the Visitor Center does have Junior Ranger booklets, and when I explained that I had written and asked for a copy ahead of time, I was told that they “don’t do that.” I countered that they had sent me perhaps $10 or $15 worth of other materials instead, and the man behind the counter simply shrugged.

    If any of you have a similar experience at Devils Tower or other parks, please share your story here. I’ve truly found this to be a winning strategy for getting my kids interested in a park ahead of time, and I’d hate to see the poor judgment of the bookstore cashier-of-the-day keep us from educating our kids in the manner we see fit.

    However, let me state that everything turned out just fine anyway. Our visit to Devils Tower was wonderful, educational, inspiring, enlightening, and fun. All that in about 24 hours!

    — Jon

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